Psycho by Robert Bloch

I remember watching Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 film Psycho and wondering where he came up with an idea for such a disturbing tale. Little did I know that the movie was actually based on the book by Robert Bloch. For those who have not read it. Psycho follows the extreme mental breakdown of Norman Bates who runs a motel with his verbally abusive mother on a stretch of road that people no longer travel on. He happens to meet Mary Crane an overworked, unappreciated secretary who has just stolen a large sum of money. Norman is unaware of this, but his attraction to Mary is the catalyst for this horrific tale.
It was interesting that the story starts out with much exposition as to why Mary Crane is on the run when she is somewhat of a minor character. As the story unfolds, we are given justifications as to why she did it. She was undervalued at her job both by her boss and his clients. Her boss was cheap but also money hungry. Mary tells us that a client offered her one hundred dollars for a weekend with her. Today something like that would not be tolerated, but if she had spoken up, then she probably would have lost her job. I felt all this explaining what she did after the fact to be boring. There were some intriguing parts to this, but I think it would have been better if Block had just started with Mary dealing with her boss and then decided at the last minute to leave. It was a somewhat ill-planned theft.
The thing that caught my attention the most was that both Mary Crane and Norman Bates were lying to themselves. Mary thinks she can get away with the money. Then convince her boyfriend that she came into the money by way of a family member passing. Mary even tries to be smart about it hiding her tracks by ditching her current car for something else and using false names. She created a very large paper trail and made it easy for anyone to track her down.
Norman Bates, on the other hand, lies to himself to justify his actions. We never see what his mother looks like but as people come to the hotel they talk about seeing a figure in the window. Norman quickly tells the tale that his mother is very ill, and he is her sole provider. The isolation caused by his mother’s verbal abuse and overall social isolation fuels his hatred towards women or anyone he deems to be a liar. The lies keep mounting as the story progress but to Norman they are real. They are the truth and no one should dare question him.
Bloch plays on this emotion when Norman invites Mary up to the house for a bite to eat. Norman is attracted to Mary, and he tries to connect with her. Unfortunately, Norman cannot form a relationship with Mary. There is a disconnect because he relationship with his mother always gets in the way. I think this garner some more sympathy for Norman. Mary happens to overhear a conversation with Norman and his mother, and it’s all down here from there once she recommends that Norman’s mother be put in a home. The fact that Norman and his mother are on in the same causes a knee-jerk reaction in Norman. He can’t stand his mother, yet he can’t lose her either. He loses his temper, and we see more signs of his other side creeping out. This was a beneficial way to show just how delusional Norman was. He gets visibly angry at Mary’s words and when he sees that he has frightened her he backs down.
The shower scene was a crucial part of the story. Here we have Norman spying on Mary because he could tell she was lying to him. However, he is also attracted to her. This is where his hatred for women is driven home. Bloch uses this moment to show just how intertwined Norman and his mother are and I found this to be very effective. Norman is disgusted with himself for watching but is it really Norman or more of his mother taking over his mind. Bloch causes us to question who is really in control. As long as Norman is calm and relatively happy he is himself but if anything should upset him or something he believes his mother would disapprove of, the other personality tries to take over and protect Norman. After “Mother” kills Mary, we see Norman react in horror at the carnage. The woman he was fantasying about while she showered is slashed multiple times.
I wish Bloch would have gone into more detail with the murder scene. It happens very much off, and we only get glimpses through Norman. I did find that it was weird how Norman describes his mother charging in and he seemed to be somewhat removed from the situation. It was like Norman wasn’t even inside his own body let alone his own head.
Even with the slow start, I enjoyed reading this book. The way Bloch used Norman’s character to draw the reader into the story was very well done, and we can forgive him leaving out specific details.

 

4 thoughts on “Psycho by Robert Bloch

  1. I agree that the Mary backstory wasn’t necessary and Bloch should have started with the action; Hitchcock agreed with you, because that’s what he did! Good point about describing the murders – that struck me also. I assume Bloch didn’t describe the murder scene because it might be considered too graphic for that time.

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  2. I loved how Bloch made Norman’s actions based on his emotions. Like you said, if he was calm, he was Norman. But, if he got upset or did something Mother would disapprove of, Norma took over. It was terrifying to me that he wrote it that way because emotions can change instantly. And I also wished that there was more to the shower scene and the scene where Arbogast dies. The movie adds so much build up to the shower scene that I was let down while reading this. And Mary’s head coming off didn’t seem super realistic to me considering the murder weapon was a knife. It’s pretty hard to decapitate someone with a knife.

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    • It makes me wonder if Psycho was pushing boundaries with those murder scenes for the time period it was made. We see glimpses but nothing like we are used to today. Even the remake they did with Vince Vaughan had very little of the knife slashing though they did flash more of the body. I have to agree a knife would take forever and it would be messier. He needs to take a few points from Dexter.

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  3. I like your point that both Mary and Norman are lying to themselves. They almost lie to themselves to survive. Mary also seems to misconstrue the depth of her relationship with Sam. In his perspective, he seems much less invested in her than she is with him, and she firmly believes that this relationship and money will make her happy. She never gets to play out her plan, but I have a feeling it wouldn’t go well. Norman also lies to himself to justify his actions, as you point out, and hide from the reality that he’s a killer who has murdered his mother. Both lie to themselves to survive, but these lies are ultimately their downfall.

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