Friday, 21 January 2000

James M. Cain: The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934)

Edition: Bloomsbury
Review number: 426

A Steinbeckian novel of the American poor written in American vernacular, the film of The Postman Always Rings Twice is far better known than its book. Short and easy to read, it still manages to give an insight into the psychology behind Frank Chanbers and Cora Papadakis' attempts to murder Cora's Greek husband Nick. It is narrated by Chambers, and his attitudes are quite subtly exhibited to the reader; perhaps the most obvious of these is the casual racism of the poor white man of the early twentieth century.

The quality of the writing is high, both in the way that its style fits the background of the narrator and in the way that so much is fitted into a short space. There are many crime novels which take a much greater length just to describe a murder plot without worrying much about characterisation. Nick is the major character whom Cain makews least effort to establish, but even there there is the feeling that his sketchiness reflects Frank's guilt over what he has done.

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