Review: Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith


I read this book as part of the Book Riot 2016 Read Harder Challenge #4 read a book out loud to someone else.

I’ve finally finished Read Harder 2016! Yay! Applause! I’m so happy! But then, you probably knew that because you read my summary post, right??? I’ve just about managed to squeeze this post in before the end of the year, ready for normal blogging service to be resumed in the New Year (as I start Read Harder 2017!)

As previously mentioned, this is the final book that I completed as part of Read Harder 2016. The reason for this is not because I started it last, or because I was savouring it (although I believe all Patricia Highsmith novels should be savoured, she is the mistress of suspense and foreboding) or because it was a particularly long book. No. It is simply because reading out loud TAKES SO FREAKING LONG. I HATED how long it took to get through even a few pages. I thought I would enjoy reading out loud but actually this experience has taught me that I definitely don’t have the patience for it.

In terms of the actual book, the story is about two men who meet on a train (they are strangers funnily enough – the clue is in the title), both of whom were struggling with a significant person in their lives. They realise that no one will know that they’ve ever met and drunkenly plot to commit murder on the others behalf, providing they both go through with it. The novel unfolds as one character descends into alcoholism whilst the other barely holds it together as the weight of their crimes haunt them. As with all of Highsmith’s books Starangers on a Train is a tense melodrama with a sociopathic character at the centre whose side, bizarrely, you end up on.

In saying all that I admit that I found the book quite slow. I’m not sure if it was because I was reading it aloud or because I just didn’t engage immediately with the storyline. I thought that the idea for the plot was really inventive (its very difficult to imagine how to commit not one but two perfect murders) but in places where it was meant to be suspenseful it just dragged. I usually love Patricia Highsmith so I was quite surprised not to really enjoy the story.

The novel itself is very cleverly written and I enjoyed the language that it used – many of the passages are incredibly elegant. I found that the bits where action happened were very engaging and well written but large swathes were just a commentary about the stress the main character was under which after a while became a little tiresome.

Perhaps it would be better if I read the book again normally (i.e. in my head). I may need to read it again to verify this theory *checks reading challenges for a re-read category* hmm, there is one, I’m not sure if I can face it though. I think I’d be better with a book that I read longer ago. We will see.*

*update – since writing the draft form of this review Christmas has happened and guess what I got – a VMC copy of Strangers on a Train! Now I’ll have to read it again! :-/

Overall rating 5/10.

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