Book Review: Psycho by Robert Bloch

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Title: Psycho

Author: Robert Bloch

Number of Pages: 175

Genre: Psychological Horror

Rating: B-

Recommended?: Yes

I know this probably falls into the category of sacrilege for a lot of film fans, but I was never crazy about the iconic Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho. I enjoyed Anthony Perkins’ performance as Norman Bates, but the shock factor of the film felt very outdated and I always much preferred Strangers on a Train as far as Hitchcock’s films went.  I don’t know what compelled me to pick up Robert Bloch’s original novel at the library, maybe I was curious about the ways in which it differed from the book.


Alfred Hitchcock mostly didn’t stray too far from the source material, although Norman Bates’ character in the book is a chubby blonde who is darker and comes off as even crazier (and certainly more overtly misogynistic) than the film Norman. The book is also a bit more graphic than the film, both in terms of the violence and the sexual dysfunction is portrays. I imagine this novel might have been an exhilarating experience if I hadn’t already known what was going to happen.


Bloch had a gift for building suspense scene by scene, chapter by chapter, and it’s kind of a shame that Hitchcock gets all the credit for a film that was taken so directly from Bloch’s novel. I bet a lot of people don’t even know that Psycho was based on a book, because the film has become so massively iconic and had overshadowed it’s source material. Psycho is a little bit pulpy, and some of the pop psychology stuff is kind of funny now, but it probably held more water when it first came out.


I liked that there was more focus put on Bates’ character than there was in the movie, he also came off as a little more intelligent than the character did when played by Anthony Perkins. I also liked Lila Crane’s determination to find her sister, even if she did end up making at least one really stupid decision in her attempts to figure out what happened to Marion. However, her relatively easy forgiveness of Norman Bates at the end because of the abuse he suffered and his precarious mental state strained credulity to the extreme, considering he decapitated her sister.


That diminished her character for me somewhat, I had a really hard time believing someone would be able to quickly excuse someone like Bates’ actions after he brutally murdered their sister and say almost casually that ‘they just want to forget about the whole thing.’ There was an enormous amount of info-dumping in the next-to-last chapter, and I wonder if the author should have had a flashback with Norman killing his mother and her lover instead of having Sam Loomis lay out the story in lengthy, stilted fashion, littered with a lot of psychobabble.


Overall, I think I liked the novel Psycho better than the movie, but I haven’t seen the movie in ages so I might have to watch it again some time to be sure. I think one of the reasons I enjoyed it more was because in the novel we got a look into Bates’ mind, and that made it a little more entertaining for me. I recommend that anyone who really likes the movie Psycho check out the original novel it was based on, it’s a lot similar in a lot of ways, but there are enough differences to make it interesting (especially if, like me, you haven’t watched the movie in years.)


I wasn’t particularly disturbed or scared by it, but it was a fun read that held my interest and which I made it through fairly quickly. Finally, I had no idea that Robert Bloch actually wrote two sequels to this novel, so I might have to check those out eventually- unfortunately they don’t seem to be available at my local library but I’m sure I’ll be able to track a couple of copies down somewhere.


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