Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Two Faces of January by Patricia Highsmith

(pb; 1964)

From the back cover:

"Athens, 1962. Rydal Keener is an American expat working as a tour guide and running cons on the side. He is mostly killing time, searching for adventure. But in Chester MacFarland, a charismatic American businessman, and his flirtatious and beautiful young wife, Colette, Rydal finds more than he bargained for. After an incident at a hotel puts the wealthy couple in danger, Rydal ties his fate to theirs. He's compromised. Events spin out of control, and infatuation and sexual tension mount among the dangerous triangle. . ."


January is a good, mostly suspenseful book whose effective plot twists are brought into being by its key characters' emotions and actions. American readers, used to the black-and-white morality of their birth country's crime novels, may be put off by the moral ambiguities of January's sometimes irrational characters and their circumstances - moral ambiguities that are omnipresent in Highsmith's other works, as well. (This is an observation, not a criticism.)

The cat-and-mouse reversals between Rydal and MacFarland run a few chapters longer than they should, resulting in a solid, if almost banal finish that may prove disappointing to readers who prefer that their entertainment end with a climactic bang.

That minor nit aside, this is a worthwhile, mostly enjoyable read from a consistently distinctive and fearless author.


This novel has inspired two films.

The first version, Die zwei Gesichter des Januar, was released in West Germany on April 17, 1986. Wolfgang Storch and Gabriela Zerhau co-directed the film from a script penned by Storch and Karl Heinz Willschrei.

This film starred Charles Brauer, Yolanda Jilot and Thomas Schücke, whose roles were not listed on imdb.


The second film was released stateside on August 28, 2014. Hossein Amini scripted and directed it.

Viggo Mortensen played Chester MacFarland. Kirsten Dunst played Colette MacFarland. Oscar Isaac played Rydal.

No comments:

<em>Calypso</em> by David Sedaris

(hb; 2018: nonfiction) Overall review This is an excellent, hilarious, heartfelt and family- and relationship-themed collection o...