The Two Faces of January

The Two Faces of January - Patricia Highsmith I went looking for this one because Viggo Mortensen's name is attached to a possible movie adaptation. Rather to my surprise, I discover this is the first Highsmith I have read, though I'm certainly familiar with the names of her more celebrated works, "Strangers on a Train" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley."

Curiously, I found myself "over-reading" this at first. Even though the story is very firmly and obviously in the POV of the two male characters (in alternating chapters) I kept questioning whether I was getting an accurate accounting of their motives. That was particularly true of the young man, Rydal Keener, who gets himself mixed up in a homicide for what seems like no reason at all. Eventually, however, I came to trust the author, and to enjoy the ambiguities of the behaviour of both men, neither of whom is particularly likeable, but both of whom gain a certain amount of our sympathy regardless. Alas, Colette remains a bit of a cypher, since we never really hear her thoughts.

If a screenwriter can find a way (with the assistance of good actors) of conveying without saying aloud the painful truth behind all the international highjinks, namely that Rydal's ambivalent behaviour towards his enemy Chester has everything to do with his own unhappy relationship with his father - then the film may well succeed. I don't think it could be successfully brought forward to the present day; so much of the plot depends on inefficiencies of communication and passport barriers within Europe.

The very first chapter had a special resonance for me. I've never been through the Corinth Canal, but I most certainly have experienced the thrill of getting up at an unusual time to see some strange and wondrous sight, such as passing through that canal. It was a lovely metaphor for Chester to be passing through to another stage of his existence, but more than that it simply grabbed this reader. May just seek out some more Highsmith.