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. . ."


Review:

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.

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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.

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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.

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