Psycho by Robert Bloch

 

I was first introduced to Psycho the movie when I was a junior in high school. I took a film class and, naturally, Psycho was a must-see. Now, I suppose in my “millennial” mindset I immediately thought, “Ugh, black and white, boooring.”

Needless to say I was wrong.

By the end of the movie I was afraid to go into my basement alone. Even now, five years later, I still can’t help but get that image of Anthony Perkins jumping into the scene–wig and all–bearing a knife out of my head when I have to go down the basement at night.

I hadn’t known at the time that Psycho was a book first, but after some incessant researching–as one usually does with generally creepy things–I found the book, and two movie sequels (though I haven’t, and don’t think I will, watched those.) I am, however, glad to have read the book. My thesis novel, though not horror, is a psychological thriller and I’ve been feeling I need to amp up the scare and tangible suspense factors. Psycho served as a pretty good novel to emulate.

I’ll be the first to say that even though I read about Mary’s death, read how Norman buried her car and body, and read about all the blood, when Sam and Lila were coming up with ideas about what might have happened to her, I started to second guess what I had witnessed inside my own mind. I mean, I’d seen the movie, I knew how this ended, but I still heard that tiny little voice in the back of my head say, “What if she’s actually alive?” I felt that Bloch created that suspense fabulously. We were shown the answer from the very beginning: It was Norma(n) in the shower with the butcher knife. But, that then begs the question: who is this story about? Mary dies within the first few chapters so, here, her murder isn’t the main mystery, but it’s what Norman is hiding. Norman is so obviously the main character, not Mary. Hence the title, Psycho. We were trying to figure out who the “psycho” was, not who killed Mary.

Another aspect I thought Bloch did well was making Norman a sympathetic character. Personally, I very rarely feel badly for the villain/murderer, and in this case, I didn’t really feel that bad for Norman’s mother, but I did feel bad for him. Right in chapter 9 he says, “Murder was a terrible thing. Even if you’re not quite right in the head, you can realize that much.” I mean, remorse and empathy are the things we always hear sociopaths and psychopaths lack. So, going one step further, I may theorize that Norman wasn’t even the real antagonist at all, it was his mother. After all, she raised him to believe he was a bad son, that he was stupid or incompetent. She brought another man into their lives and promptly left Norman by the wayside. Was Norman right to murder her and Joe Considine? Certainly not, but I don’t think that necessarily makes him the ultimate villain.

The number one thing I want to take away from Bloch’s Psycho is how, even after finishing the book, he has kept me thinking about the plot and formulating new theories. Usually a good book–and not just a well-written book, but a book that really jabs me where it hurts–lingers around and I can’t stop thinking about it. A good book should leave me not knowing how I feel. Because if an author gets to that part of me and confuses, angers, frustrates, and amazes me, then it’s more than a book. It’s an adventure.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. The Petulant Muse says:

    Katie,
    I agree with you completely. Bloch’s suspense, his ability to make you question what you know or think you know and that fear he leaves you with (I personally can’t take showers without constantly watching for shadows on the curtain) is certainly a talent to be envied. This is and always will be one of my favorite books/movies of all time. I loved Norman Bates and I thought “if only someone loved him, he would be such a great person.” He doesn’t seem to fit the “psychopath” definition as he is more a split personality disordered patient. And we do question who in this story the real villain is. After all, Mary wasn’t a nice girl either.

    The one thing the book made me think about that I never considered in the movie was that the only thing we know about his mother is filtered through Norman’s very sick mind. What if he was a paranoid schizophrenic and his mind made up this evil mother to ease his guilt of killing her? Something else to think about in the days to come.

    Great review. I enjoyed it.
    Joe-la

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  2. kloft1993 says:

    Hi Katie,

    Your perspective on the novel was very interesting to me because you saw the film beforehand, while I went into it only knowing the pop culture references to it. I thought I was second-guessing the facts I thought I knew about the story because I hadn’t seen or read it. But seeing that you knew exactly what happened and, too, thought twice about Norman’s mother and who committed the murder(s) just goes to show how well Bloch developed the suspense.

    I also found Norman to be sympathetic, and was quite surprised that I did. I suppose there were many assumptions I had about him, and it was intriguing the amount of actual psychology that Bloch included in the novel, especially considering the time Psycho was written. It’s quite difficult to peg someone like that as simply “evil” because there are so many factors involved on Norman’s emotional abuse as well as insecurities. And when comparing him with Patrick Bateman, it’s becomes even easier to see Norman as a sympathetic character.

    Klarisa

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  3. grcope says:

    Katie, I liked what you said about Norman Bates’ mother possibly being the real antagonist in this book — she certainly takes up a lot of “space” in the story! Since she’s the motive for just about everything that Norman does, it’s easy to see her in that role. If we didn’t know he had killed her and her boyfriend years ago, I could almost believe she was actually sitting up there in the house pulling Norman’s strings.

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