Tag: Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith

The Two Faces of January by Patricia Highsmith

Posted August 14, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Crime, Thriller / 0 Comments

The Two Faces of January by Patricia HighsmithTitle: The Two Faces of January (Goodreads)
Author: Patricia Highsmith
Published: Sphere, 1964
Pages: 306
Genres: Crime, Thriller
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Con artist Chester MacFarland is wanted by the police back in America, but here in Greece, he feels free to roam with his young Colette. That was until he accidently kills a police officer in his hotel room. The young American law graduate, Rydal Keener is there to help them escape the city. This accident has brought the three together but is this for the best or is there something else at play?

Patricia Highsmith is often referred to as the queen of suspense and The Two Faces of January does not do anything to contradict this. The title alone gives the reader a pretty clear idea of what to expect; the month of January is named after the Roman god Janus. Janus has two faces, one looking to the future while the other looks at the past. The term Janus-faced means “having two sharply contrasting aspects or characteristics”. In the biography Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith by Andrew Wilson, Highsmith stated that the title was a reference to the flux-like nature of the characters that she likes to create.

When it comes to character development, Patricia Highsmith really shines like no other. She has a great ability to create complex characters that feel authentic, and that is an ability that I find lacking in a lot of suspense novels. In The Two Faces of January, Highsmith creates a love triangle that is actually interesting to read about. There is the homoerotic relationship between Chester and Rydal and Colette is also quite taken by this young law graduate. This turns the book into more of a psychological look at the shifting nature of relationships rather than a thriller. It does depends on how the reader decides to read The Two Faces of January but for me the depth is what stood out for me.

I probably should mention that The Two Faces of January was adapted into a movie back in 2014 starring Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac. This was the directorial debut for Hossein Amini, who is best known writing the screenplay for the novels Drive and Our Kind of Traitor; he even wrote the script for The Two Faces of January. I know I need to have more Highsmith within my reading life and I am thinking about re-reading The Talented Mr Ripley, before continuing on with the series. I have noticed there are new editions of the Highsmith’s novels lately and I think I should take advantage of the availability while they are easily accessible.