Sunday, 2 March 2014

Psycho by Robert Bloch Review

Mary is entrusted with $40k to deposit in the bank - but decides to run away with it instead. On her way to the small town where her fiance, Sam Loomis, lives, she decides to stop at a motel for the night, freshen up with a shower and some sleep, and be ready to surprise Sam in the morning to start their new life together. But this is the Bates Motel run by the very odd Norman Bates and his “mother” - and Mary will never see Sam again…

Robert Bloch may not be a great writer but he struck literary gold when he created Norman Bates, an insane serial killer based on Ed Gein, the infamous murderer who made furniture out of his victims. Bloch writes the chapters from the different points of view of his characters, and the chapters where we get to see the world through Norman’s eyes are really something.

Generally, the story is pretty pedestrian. Mary’s journey isn’t very exciting as she just drives until she reaches the Bates Motel. But when she stops there - and even though I’d never read the book before, I’d seen the Hitchcock and Van Sant movies so I knew what was what - the scenes with Norman come together so well.

This formula runs through the whole novel. None of the other characters are at all interesting - Sam is a bland, down-home, good guy who sells hardware and goes to church. Mary’s worried sister Lila is similar but slightly more headstrong and daring leading to the best scene in the book, when it’s revealed who “mother” really is. The private detective and the sheriff are equally dull, two-dimensional stereotypes.

But put these dull characters in a scene with Norman and the book comes to life because you’re waiting to see what insane old Norman’s going to do to them. The infamous shower scene and the scenes in the house behind the motel - especially when Lila’s going through the house, looking at the extent of Norman’s madness, culminating in the horrors of the basement - still manage to chill, 55 years down the line.

I understand why the boring scenes where Sam, Lila, the sheriff, and the private investigator are talking and puttering about, are there - they’re to provide a contrast to the Norman chapters which are just nuts because he’s just nuts. The banal normality of smalltown Americana is there to heighten the insanity of Norman’s existence and build tension for the scenes when “mother” appears. But they’re still boring scenes and a chore to get through.

Psycho is worth a look if you’re in the mood for a short, easy horror novel. You’ll fly through it no problem and some of the material is still terrifying and truly gripping. And while it was made into a classic movie, I don’t think it’s a classic horror novel on the same level as other great horror novels from this time like Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend or Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. But Norman Bates is a brilliant character and Pyscho is worth picking up to visit the Bates Motel and meet him yourself.

Enjoy your stay in Room 6...


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