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English Book Club: ‘Strangers on a train’ by Patricia Highsmith

220px-StrangersOnATrainStrangers on a train, is a psychological thriller novel by Patricia Highsmith about two men whose lives become entangled after one of them proposes they ‘trade’ murders. He then goes ahead and fulfills his end of the imaginary bargain, leading to fatal consequences for both.

It was adapted as a film in 1951 by director Alfred Hitchcock. It has since been adapted in whole or in part for film and television several times. The novel was adapted for radio in 2004 by Craig Warner, and adapted for the stage in 2013.

Architect Guy Haines wants to divorce his unfaithful wife, Miriam, in order to marry the woman he loves, Anne Faulkner. While on a train to see his wife, he meets Charles Anthony Bruno, a psychopathic playboy who proposes an idea to “exchange murders”: Bruno will kill Miriam if Guy kills Bruno’s father; neither of them will have a motive, and the police will have no reason to suspect either of them. Guy does not take Bruno seriously, but Bruno kills Guy’s wife while Guy is away in Mexico.

Bruno informs Guy of his crime, but Guy hesitates to turn him in to the police. He realizes that Bruno could claim Guy’s complicity in the planned exchange murders; however, the longer he remains silent, the more he implicates himself. This implicit guilt becomes stronger as in the coming months Bruno makes appearances demanding that Guy honor his part of the bargain. After Bruno starts writing anonymous letters to Guy’s friends and colleagues, the pressure becomes too great, and Guy murders Bruno’s father.

Patricia Highsmpatricia highsmith2ith (1921-1975) was an American novelist and short story writer, known for her psychological thrillers, which led to more than two dozen film adaptations.

Strangers on a Train, her first novel, has been adapted for stage and screen numerous times, notably by Alfred Hitchcock in 1951. Highsmith wrote 22 novels, including her series of five novels with Tom Ripley as protagonist, and many short stories. Existentialism is the literary movement that most influenced her writing, with “Dostoyevsky and Gide through Camus and Sartre” among her favorite authors.

Published under the pseudonym of “Claire Morgan”, Highsmith wrote the first lesbian novel with a happy ending, The Price of Salt, republished 38 years later as Carol under her own name.

Highsmith was born Mary Patricia Plangman in Fort Worth, Texas. In 1927, Highsmith, her mother and her adoptive stepfather, artist Stanley Highsmith, whom her mother had married in 1924, moved to New York City.

Many of Highsmith’s novels were set in Greenwich Village, where she lived at 48 Grove Street from 1940 to 1942, before moving to 345 E. 57th Street.

Highsmith had a troubled personal life. She endured cycles of depression, some of them deep, throughout her life. She was an alcoholic who, allegedly, never had an intimate relationship that lasted for more than a few years, and she was seen by some of her contemporaries and acquaintances as misanthropic and hostile.

A lifelong diarist, Highsmith left behind eight thousand pages of handwritten notebooks and diaries. She never married or had children. Highsmith died from lung cancer in Locarno, Switzerland.

Here you can see the trailer Hitchcock’s adaptation of the novel.

The English Book Club will take a summer break and will meet again in October!

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