Thursday, July 12, 2012

"Norman closed the door. He went back to the office and took another drink. A congratulatory drink."

This was going to be even easier than he’d dreamed. It was going to be easy as pie."
Psycho: A Novel - by Robert Bloch

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I love this tale. I know it seems ignorant to say that I didn't even know this was a novel until it was proposed for my Readings in the Genre (RIG) course in Horror (Psychos) at Seton Hill, but it's true. Apparently, 0 out of every 10 people I tried to discuss this book with (in my every day life, not with Seton Hill students or other writers) didn't know Psycho was a novel before it was a movie. Go figure. It seems a book still manages to reach the heights of anonymity even after a film is made based on its genius.

Despite that realization, I was extremely glad to have read the novel and to understand its origins. Robert Bloch wrote this tale beautifully, and I wish I'd read the story way before I ever saw the Hitchcock version. Novels tend to hold deep meanings within the pages that never quite translate to film, and so I always prefer to read the novel before seeing the movie. In this instance, it couldn't be helped.

I found Psycho suspenseful even though I'd seen the old flick. The easy language of the read was what captivated me most. There wasn't deep introspective language, or words I needed to look up. The pages held within them a simplicity woven with shadows and intrigue. It's something a reader doesn't get much these days. There are too many inexperienced writers who try to write beyond every day vocabulary, and who make their story more complex than it needs to be. What I most enjoyed about this tale were the simple motivations of the characters, the plain language in which the story was written and the scary backdrop woven into it which allowed me to obtain the experience of being at the hotel and "living" the nightmare.

One of my favorite lines once Mary gets to the hotel:

“Sorry,” he said. “I was just tucking Mother in for the night. Sometimes she’s apt to be a bit difficult.”
~Bloch, Robert (1959) Psycho

Norman is physically different in this novel, compared to the movie. Anthony Perkins was thin and lanky in Hitchcock's version, while the Norman in the story was round. Fat.

Still, the pictures in my mind were similar to the film. I found it interesting that for the most part, as I read, I saw the story in black and white. Perhaps it was the setting combined with the influence of the movie...but Robert Block's tale was thoroughly engaging and I loved each scene as it processed through my brain.

Drawbacks in the prose were those issues in writing that most of us are "dinged" for by editors and mentors. There are tons of repetitive words, lots of passive tense and even a "grimace" (I noted this just for my mentor Timons Esaias). As a modern writer and student of popular fiction, it's hard not to notice these things now, particularly when you are slashed and hacked with red ink or track changes in Word telling you that you MUST NOT do this...!

In order to cope, I admit I did edit the electronic version of the text with highlights and comments, but I also have to confess I enjoyed the novel immensely. Robert Bloch managed to show me that even though Norman Bates was certifiably crazy, everyone is a little crazy every now and then. And we never know what might throw us off the pier into the deep end of the swamp.




  1. Your reading/response to this novel makes sense to me. I enjoyed the easy read, too. Having seen the film many times since childhood, it was comfortable/comforting to ease right into the pages of this novel and take a closer look at the workings of Norman's mind.

    I enjoyed reading this for the first time, and I would most likely read it again. Sure, there were lots of problems as you and most of the other folks have mentioned, but I still had a great time reading it.

    And yes, it is a good reminder that no matter how normal or boring day-to-day life can be, we all do go a little crazy. Maybe that's why.

  2. I also liked the simple nature of the writing. It helps me as a writer to step back and see wow, this story has done really well because of the story itself and not because Bloch tried to dress it up with thick prose. And like you say, there are issues with his writing to also be aware of when we write. My thoughts are that you don't necessarily need to dress your writing up but if you are too relaxed you come out a bit sloppy. So thanks for your review. I love seeing how we as writers can learn not only from each other but the methods others use in their writing.

  3. Michelle & DK,

    Thanks for taking time to stop by and read the blog. :)
    Take care and be well!


  4. Great post. Great qoutes. Simple is always best. If this book were published today, I doubt it would get much attention given the noise out there. I, too, found it difficult to not think of the movie. I couldn't help but think I knew what was on the next page and yet I was pleasantly surprised that the novel and the movie were not identical. A fun, short read. I read the entire book on a flight from St. Louis to San Diego.

  5. You have a gift for pulling out good quotes. It's your superpower. I wish I would have enjoyed the book - I wanted to . . . badly. He lost me at the one-sentence pivotal scene -and I wonder if I would have had a different take if I'd read this before seeing Hitchcock's version. Bear in mind I didn't DISLIKE it - it wasn't mutant spiders or drawings I couldn't make heads nor tails from, but it didn't keep me engaged. Enjoyed your critique. You have a way of inspiring me to appreciate those works I tend to disengage from.

  6. You guys are awesome. Thank you for your review! I agree Dwight. Books are much more fast paced now, and almost require pictures and arrows and paragraphs on the back of each page explaining what each one is to be used as evidence against it...! ;) Gina, thank you so much. I try very hard to pull out the quotes that encompass the meaning of the book (to me). It takes careful reading and thought as I go along. I do understand why the book didn't grab you. I did like that it was different than the movie, but it didn't grab me up like the Da Vinci Code did. :)