Monday, June 16, 2014

Audiobook Review: Psycho by Robert Bloch


Written by: Robert Bloch

Published: 1959

Audiobook read by: Paul Michael Garcia

Synopsis: It was a dark and stormy night when Mary Crane glimpsed the unlit neon sign announcing the vacancy at the Bates motel. Exhausted, lost, and at the end of her rope, she was eager for a hot shower and a bed for the night. Her room was musty but clean and the plumbing worked. Norman Bates, the manager, seemed nice, if a little odd.


“Mothers sometimes are overly possessive, but not all children allow themselves to be possessed.”

Psycho is without a doubt a fantastic film, it's one of the fantastic films. But it owes everything it is to Robert Bloch, because without the fantastic foundation he created with his book, the film would have nothing.

But with all that said and done, I never had a burning desire to read the book that started it all. I had always had it on my list of "one day in the future I'm sure I'll get a chance" books but I never searched it out at book sales or book stores or even gave it a thought when perusing the shelves at the library. That changed when I was mindlessly flipping around Audible looking for books to use my credit on. Psycho came up as a suggested book for me and at a meagre 5 hours (I was still a little burnt out from the 30+ hour epic that was The Goldfinch) it seemed like the perfect purchase.

Part of the problem, I expect, is that I knew the twist. I don't have a lot of issues with spoilers, it rarely stops me from enjoying something I read/watch, but the 'twist' in Psycho is so seminal (as is the shower murder to be honest) that I wasn't sure if reading it would actually add that much. I definitely think I would have liked the book more if I didn't know the twist (I'm dancing around it, but everyone knows about Norman Bates' predilections right?) because the final 15% of the book was harrowing enough for me, so I can only imagine how much people reading it when it originally came out must have been glued to the edges of their seats. But knowing or not knowing, this book is a brilliant little thriller. Well written, well paced, and (in the case of the audiobook) well read.

It's hard to avoid comparing the book with the film. For the most part I'd say the film does a brilliant job bringing Bloch's story to life, making only fairly minor changes. One point I do want to raise though is that Film Norman Bates and Book Norman Bates could not be more different. Well, psychotically they're the same, but visually not so much. In the film the dishy Anthony Perkins plays the role, while in the book Norman Bates is described as in his early 40s and overweight. Thanks to Ellie's review last year I know that this was an intentional shift made by Hitchcock but it got me to thinking of Carrie which had a similar shift from overweight and homely to thin and attractive (even if Sissy Spacek isn't exactly your traditional Hollywood beauty) for the leading character.  I don't know if I was more attuned to Carrie because it was a change that stuck out for me personally, but I feel like people seem less critical of the Psycho change than of the Carrie change in reviews and discussions on the film adaptation. Is it because Hollywood has a nasty habit of prettying up every female they can, or is it that we actually care less when they recast a male character as someone more handsome? This isn't a complaint of the book or the film, I think Anthony Perkins was brilliant as Bates, but it was a thought that popped into my head almost immediately and has been sloshing around in there for a week or two now. And now it is in yours.

Psycho is well worth a read, regardless of how well you know - or don't know - the film adaptation. It's a short, sharp thriller which teases out some interesting characters in such a short space of time. It also plays with some interesting ideas, touching on issues relating to familial relationships and obligations, magic and psychology to develop a horror story that has the potential to terrify because of the events (which are definitely more horrific than the film, surprisingly) but also because it so clearly and matter-of-factly lays out why the events of the novel happen.

So this is a pretty short and bland review, but it's always difficult to review books that a) everyone knows about, b)is a thriller with twists, and c) is an audiobook, because I just don't notice writing style nearly enough. So I'm going to sign off with a shrug and hope that you accept my "just read it, cos" as acceptable enough.


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