😀 😀 😀 😀 😀
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…
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?
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.
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.
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.