Psycho by Robert Bloch

psychoMother love…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Mary Crane, driving through a downpour with the $40,000 she has just stolen, takes a wrong turning and finds herself lost. But ahead she sees the welcome sight of the Bates Motel and decides to stop there for the night. The proprietor Norman Bates is alone there, except for his mother, since the new road that’s been built means not many guests ever show up at the motel any more. Poor Norman. Fat and unattractive, he has never dated a woman, and spends his lonely evenings reading books on psychology, trying to understand his relationship with his overbearing and cruel mother. That’s when he’s not reading about the occult, or poring over his collection of pornography. Poor Mary. Driven to theft by her desire to marry the man she loves, she is beginning to wonder if she’s made the right decision or if should she go back home and return the money. Poor Mother…

bates motel

Anyone who has seen Hitchcock’s film of Psycho knows that the real shock factor rests on two things – the shower scene, and the major twist at the end. I was intrigued to see whether knowing the twist would be such a spoiler that it would ruin the book for me, but I’m delighted to say that it didn’t at all. It seems the film stuck pretty closely to the book with just one or two changes, but the way Bloch wrote the passages relating to Norman and his mother were intriguing even though I knew how it all ends. In fact, I wondered at points if knowing the thing that I know, but can’t say for fear of spoiling it for anyone who doesn’t know, didn’t actually add an extra frisson of horror to the whole thing. I also wondered if I’d have been able to work out the twist, if I hadn’t already known what I know. You know?

psycho 1

The major difference is in the appearance and to some extent the personality of Norman. In the film Anthony Perkins as Norman is kind of creepily attractive and seems quite functional, both of which add somehow to the evilness of his character. The book version of Norman, though, paints him as a bit of a sad and unattractive loner with a drink problem, and we get enough glimpses of his relationship with his awful Mother to feel that it’s not entirely his fault that he’s turned out the way he has. Without the restrictions of film censorship, Bloch can tell us more clearly about Norman’s penchant for porn, a thing the film only hints at so subtly it’s easy to miss. His other obsession with reading psychology lets us know that he knows himself that his relationship with his mother is abnormal, and that he worries about it. And despite the fact that the shower scene in the film is shockingly gory, it pales in comparison to the brutality of the same scene in the book.

NormanBates.jpeg

The characterisation in general is excellent, with the emphasis very much on the psychology of the people involved. Mary (Marion in the film version) has a back story of sacrificing her youth to look after her elderly mother and make sure her sister Lila got through college. Now Mary feels time ticking by and desperately wants to marry her fiancé, Sam, sooner rather than putting it off for the couple of years Sam needs to get enough money together. Lila doesn’t have quite such a major role, being more or less the catalyst for Sam to go snooping round the hotel, but she’s still filled out reasonably well. Sam is more complex than I remember from the film. Having met Mary on a cruise and only really communicated with her by letter ever since, he’s pretty quick to accept that she could be guilty of theft, and to go on to wonder how well he really knew her at all. So it’s as much out of duty and to help Lila that he goes off detecting, rather than out of devoted love. Through Sam we also get a picture of small town life, both its restrictions and its sense of community, and this is very well done.

Robert Bloch
Robert Bloch

In the end, I enjoyed the book as much as the film but for different reasons. The film is scarier, but then I usually find films scarier than books, so that might just be me. But the book goes more deeply into the psychology of all the characters, making it much more substantial than a mere shocker. Bloch’s writing style suits the material well – spare, almost noir in places – and he’s very clever in the way he hides the truth from the reader until very near the end. Definitely recommended even if you’ve already seen the film.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Orion Publishing.

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70 thoughts on “Psycho by Robert Bloch

  1. Great review – I’d never heard much about the book of this, so interesting to get your viewpoint. I always find films scarier too – it’s the music, the visuals – it’s just all-encompassing. I’m a complete coward and won’t watch anything over a 15, to the children’s great amusement! I think I’d like to read this book though.

    • Thanks, crimeworm! I enjoy some scary films but I don’t watch them often. Love Psycho though – or anything Hitchcock. The book is good – I think you’d enjoy it.

  2. Mmmm – the film was (and still is) the scariest film I ever saw, sending me into screaming meltdown, and I couldn’t even dream of watching it again, but, you know, I never thought about the fact it had probably come from a book………….tempted!

    • One of the scariest nights of my life was watching a double-bill of Psycho and Psycho II in the cinema. But Robert de Niro’s Cape Fear topped it by miles!! I think you might enjoy the book though – it’s very mid-20th century psychological-obsession stuff…

  3. An absolute classic! Like you, I read the book having already seen the film. Obviously, you can’t go back and ‘un-know’ the twist, but I found it actually added to the experience. Both mediums tell a great story, superbly well.

  4. So glad to hear you thought the novel was suspenseful, even knowing…well, you know. You know, it’s interesting that they cast Perkins as Bates. As you say, not the Bates of the novel, but he has his own kind of eerie appeal. Not strictly true to the book, but a solid cast choice in my opinion. It doesn’t alter the soul of the story, I don’t think.

    • Yes, while he’s different from the Norman in the book I thought Perkins gave a wonderful performance. And although Hitchcock claimed he didn’t stick rigidly to the stories he chose, I’ve found from the couple I’ve read that the changes he makes aren’t too radical really. As you say, he keeps the soul of the stories…

  5. Well, you learn something new every day, you know. In this case, I didn’t know this was a book, you know. (What a very Glaswegian post, btw.)

        • D’you know, I’m really bad at watching films these days. I don’t have the concentration to watch them at home – I always end up doing other things, and I hardly ever go to the cinema. So yes – but it never really works. I just keep adding films and never actually watch them!

          • I was looking for help with watching movies and you shattered my hopes. 😉 I used to. But even in the theater I find reasons to be antsy and head for the ladies’ at least twice.

            • I did think of doing reviews of ‘films of the books’ at one point, but realised I’d never stick to it. I blame the laptop – it’s too easy to get distracted, and with a book you can stop and start, but with a film you really need to concentrate or it’s not worthwhile.

            • Oh dear. I inherited some of my dad’s geek squad sorts of thing. And I’m determined. But I have to say about using Micro Office does give me a run for my money. I have to use it for my editing, and I have a bald spot on the left side of my head from tearing it out.

            • I’m fine with anything I care about or use regularly, but I must admit the remote controls for the thousand techie gadgets around the house all merge into one after a while, especially the ones I don’t use so often. And of course they’re always ‘lost’ when I want them…

  6. I can’t handle horror movies but I do know the twist ending of this one. I did not know it was a book first though. Interesting to hear your comparison.

    • I didn’t know it was a book either till I spotted this version. Although the story is basically the same, it’s not quite as scary as the movie because of the lack of visuals. A good read!

  7. Gee, this was a book?? I didn’t know that. However, the film scared the dickens out of me — that shower scene and the ending, especially — and I’m not sure I could handle the book, too. Of course, I read The Exorcist and then refused to see the movie. I’m not sure which I find scarier, reading or watching. ‘Tis a puzzle, I guess. Very well-written review, ma’am!

    • Thanks, Debbie! I know – I didn’t know about the book either, but Orion have done a whole series called ‘Read a Great Film’ and I’m enjoying comparing them with some of the films I’ve loved. It’s not quite as scary as the movie – though I could hear that music in my head at the shower scene! Haha! I saw The Exorcist when I was fourteen… young enough to really enjoy it… 😉

  8. I’m not sure I knew this was a book first, but it makes sense. The Birds was from a Du Maurier short story (and it’s quite different from the movie). I was thinking that it sounds the actors were prettier or more handsome than their counterparts, but not surprising. I agree that Anthony Perkins was handsome and creepy. And I’m sure the fiance casting of John Gavin was not the same. He was so classically handsome. I’m going to find this book and read it and then watch the movie again. It’s a favorite of mine. Thanks for the info and very, very nice review!

    • Thanks, Kay! 😀 Funny you should mention The Birds – it’ll be in my Five of the Best post tomorrow. Yes, from what I can see, the changes that Hitchcock mainly made were to put in attractive actors and of course his famous blondes. But he seems to stay faithful to the major plot points and he’s so wonderful at getting that scary atmosphere… hope you enjoy the book! I think I must watch the film again soon too…

  9. The book/film relationship is an interesting one. Sometimes it’s quite harmonious and complimentary, which Psycho seems to be. That said, I’m a big scaredy cat and don’t think I’ll pursue this one. It all started with the Exorcist…but that’s another story. 🙂 At the risk of repeating myself, great review!

    • Thanks, DD! 😀 I find that I can cope if I see the film then read the book. But if I do it the other way round then I become really critical. But though Hitchcock has changed some things, really in this case the film is very close to the book – but with added scary music! Haha! It’s odd how many of us were terrified by The Exorcist – I watched it again a couple of years ago, and it’s not nearly as bad as I remember. Except for the bit where her head revolves… 😉

  10. Ooh this is one of my all time favourite films, in a large part for the psychology, so I love the idea that the book focusses on it even more – definitely adding to the to-read list, thanks!

    • That’s why I love Hitchcock’s films in general, but I suppose it’s always possible to go into it more deeply in a book. Hope you enjoy it, and thanks for popping in and commenting! 🙂

  11. Well it appears I’m not the only person who didn’t know this was a book! This must be the scariest film I’ve watched and I’m now very (very) tempted to request the book as I do love those that go into the psychology of the characters… Thanks for a great review!

    • Thanks, Cathy! 🙂 I hadn’t realised there was a book till I spotted this on NetGalley, but I definitely think it’s just different enough to make it well worth reading even if you know the film.

    • It looks like loads of us hadn’t realised there was a book before the film! Definitely worth reading, even if only to see what changes Hitchcock made. 🙂

    • This may be the only time you’ll ever hear me say this, but I think the film first in this case. So much of the effect of the film rests on it’s shock value that I reckon it’d lose something if you knew how it plays out. Whereas I felt the book almost gained something by knowing what happens…

      The film is scary though – really scary!

  12. FEF! Another stellar review, I must say. I love it lots (and lots) that the movie is very close to the book. I think I’ve seen parts of the movie. My favorite part is at the end when Norman is having speaks with a fly–sorta. That was funny.

    But you have made me want to read the book!

    And you know, the whole shower scene is frustrating: she could’ve easily disarmed him if she knew what she was doing.

    • Two in a row!! Gosh, can’t remember when that last happened! *falls on her bahooky in astonishment* You should watch the movie properly all the way through – it’s great! A real classic.

      Good noodles! Have you been out in the sun?!

      But that would have made the film so short… though maybe she could have murdered him instead, and chopped him up for soup!

      • I know *laughs about bahooky* but you did get two in a row! You must be getting warmed up or something. I would…but…okay…but it’s black and white!

        Why do you ask? I’m not burnt at the minute.

        For soup?! *gags*

        • *laughs* Well, I shall try to keep my standards up – but I fear it’s getting harder to get stellars. I blame Mr Twain. But… that’s like saying classical music shouldn’t be listened to because the instruments aren’t electric…

          ‘Cos you voluntarily said you’d like to read a book – definitely sunstroke!

          Says the man who’s willing to eat at Ruber’s…

          • Yes, you did go and rip my favorite author. Imagine! *laughing* Yes…well…you’ve got a point there…

            Yes, it’s been so hot here. Well…that could be it!

            Oh, you’d like it there.

    • Thank you! Yes, as a general rule I usually prefer the book to the film, but with this one I liked them both equally, though for different reasons. Hitch sure knew how to pick good stories…

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