What led me to pick up two books for RIP VII with ‘stranger’ in the title I don’t know.
They might not seem to have much in common otherwise at first glance.
Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger, set in an ageing mansion in England, with strange occurrences and some spine-tingling moments.
The other stranger, Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, where two men meet for the first time on a train in the US and murders ensue.
But there’s something, there’s that little something that makes them all too alike. A kind of psychological terror, some crafty manipulation, a sense of dread as I read both books, wanting to finish and yet feeling all kinds of icky.
I have to admit though that for The Little Stranger, it required the reading of other, far more insightful readalong participants’ blog posts (especially this one – however, please do not read if you haven’t read/finished the book) to make me go ohhhhhh…. It was a conclusion I had suspected but was unable to definitely put a finger on. But having someone else spell it out for me, it made me realise that The Little Stranger was a better book than I had thought it was. Sure it took ages to build up, and at the end of it, I closed the book, feeling uneasy, like there was something I had been missing. It was due back at the library so there wasn’t time to have a relook, but reading that blog post made me understand the brilliance behind unreliable narrators (see my thoughts on the first half of the book here)
Anyway, both books start out innocently enough, meeting Dr Faraday and the Ayres family in The Little Stranger, on the train with Guy as he thinks about divorcing his wife Miriam and then he meets Charles Anthony Bruno who weasels his way into Guy’s life.
Then Bruno drops the bomb:
“Hey! Cheeses, what an idea! We murder for each other, see? I kill your wife and you kill my father! We meet on the train, see, and nobody knows we know each other! Perfect alibis! Catch?”
Guy of course is shocked. The word ‘murder’ “sickened him, terrified him” yet “he could feel there was logic in it somewhere, like a problem or a puzzle to be solved”.
Guy has plenty more than the ravings of a drunk stranger to think about – his wife is pregnant, and it’s not his baby. He wants a divorce but she wants to wait until her baby’s father is divorced himself.
What he doesn’t know is that Charles actually has been thinking of the murder, of Miriam:
“He was on his way to do a murder which not only would fulfill a desire of years, but would benefit a friend. It made Bruno very happy to do things for his friends. And his victim deserved her fate. Think of all the other good guys he would save from ever knowing her!”
“He sat on the edge of his seat and wished Guy were opposite him again. But Guy would try to stop him, he knew; Guy wouldn’t understand how much he wanted to do it or how easy it was.”
So yeah, Charles is some kind of psychopath.
On the other hand, Guy is quite the pushover. He can’t even make pregnant Miriam give him a divorce… So up against this spoiled, manipulative, quite insane stalker (Charles is so bizarrely convinced that nothing will tie the two of them together, despite sending letters, making phone calls – sure this is some decades ago as Highsmith wrote this in 1950 but there are ways of tracing phone calls), Guy is at the losing end. Yet he still tries to beat Charles at his own game. Sigh…
An awesome, kind of cringe-y read.
Strangers on a train was so up the RIP alley, this one. Not in the bump in the night kind of way, but the regular folk going cray-cray kind of way.