As I teach a film theory class and explore the various film movements throughout history, I have also been tackling the various novels and plays that these films have been based on. Robert Bloch’s Psycho came up on such a list, so I dug into the 1959 novel that launched Hitchcock’s legendary thriller. Having seen the film countless times (and the unfortunate remake from the 1990’s), the plot of the novel comes with no surprise.
Bloch creates a classic thriller, allowing the reader to enter the minds of nearly every major character and to understand their motivations. In print, the reader grows to understand Marion, her plight, and why she takes off with a large sum of money. We are privy to her moral crisis, to the sly and shifty sale of cars, and to her determination to set things right before her untimely murder. We are present in a different way when she accidentally toy’s with Norman, prying at his maternal relationship without fully knowing that such actions will spell her doom.
Similarly, Norman comes across as more the victim. An active player yes, but one covering for his mother despite the truth. He can’t sleep at night, he struggles with covering for her murder, and he lacks the wry smile of his silver screen portrayal. This Norman is not the glowing, attractive model of Anthony Perkins fame, but instead presents a classic oddity. Large and awkward in both social graces and appearances, Norman is not a charmer—instead he looks every bit the crazed creature, the one that might unnerve you.
Either way, the novel is terse, fast paced, and a great compliment to the proliferation of media surrounding the story of Normal Bates and company.