Customer Reviews: The Cry of the Owl (Highsmith, Patricia)
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on April 18, 1997
Patricia Highsmith has her own chilling interpretation of the suspense thriller genre. You wonder not so much about what will happen or how it will happen or who will do it. Rather, the question is: how much worse can things get for the relatively innocent main character, Robert Forrester, who, as the novel goes on, is falsely suspected of a growing number of deaths.

Forrester invites suspicion by prowling around the house of a young woman. Depressed by the failure of his marraige, he has moved to a small Pennsylvannia town and is leading a solitary and bleak life. Looking through the windows of Jenny's house, he is comforted by watching the attractive young woman attend to domestic details: cooking, hanging curtains, talking to her boyfriend over dinner.

Highsmith presents Forrester's prowling as understandable; slightly wrong, and risky, yet certainly not harmful. Mostly one feels sympathy for Forrester, a character drawn in anguished shades of gray. He is a decent man, with no drive or hope, seeking a little illicit happiness.

As the novel progresses, his relationship to Jenny takes a surprising turn of events. Highsmith's mastery lies in the pedestrian inevitability with which she introduces abnormal and even shocking twists of the plot. Because we are lulled into Highsmith's own distinctive world of the darkness of ordinary lives, our anxiety for Forrester is gradually heightened without our even being aware of it. By the time the plot gets around to the events which categorize the novel as a mystery, we are deeply engaged in the psychologies of Forrester and Jenny, as well as several other characters.

The suspense thus springs from their own interior struggles, rather than the machinations of a conventional murder plot. Predictably, therefore, there are no easy solutions in the end, no complex train of events to be tied up in one simple explanation.

The adding up of the actions of people who are no more conscious of why they do what they do than any regular person, has, in this novel, an utterly gripping and painfully believable tragic outcome.
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on October 8, 2000
This book is one of the few books I've ever read, especially in mystery, that gave me a serious case of the creeps. It's not just suspenseful, it's scary. The book has aged, but not dated; if anything I found Highsmith's characters even more disturbing in light of how social mores and psychological knowledge has advanced. But what's ultimately scary about it is that what happens to our hero, Robert Forester, is something that could very easy happen to anyone in the wrong place at the wrong time. Read it, it's brilliant.
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on December 17, 2002
This is the first Patricia Highsmith novel I've read, and all things considered I probably should have started with one of her more popular titles. I did enjoy the book, but thought the action fizzled out a bit about halfway through. It started really well. I liked Robert, I liked the cosy domestic idyll Jenny represented for him, but I got disappointed when they actually got to know each other, and found that the reality of their relationship paled beside his fantasy.
I found Nikkie somewhat unbelievable - could someone so theatrically cruel really exist and would someone like Robert ever be blind enough to marry her? Hopefully not. I also thought Greg's transformation from clean-cut, stable, all-American nice guy to a gun-wielding, porn-viewing maniac a little too radical. If Highsmith was trying to invert our assumptions about Robert and Greg and make a point about appearance and reality she should probably have done so with a little more subtlety.
I expected the plot to take a completely different arc to what it did - did anyone else latch on to the comment Jenny made towards the beginning of the book about how accusing a man falsely of rape was the worst crime a woman could commit? I thought that this was an indicator of how the story would proceed, and felt a little cheated when it turned out to have no bearing on the plot at all.
Having said all that, Highsmith did a wonderful job of creating an atmosphere of tension and nervous expectation, as my completely eroded cuticles will testify. It's a book that has an almost physiological effect on you - you actually experience what the characters feel, rather than using your imagination to try and simulate the experience. The ending is particularly good in this regard as it gives no closure, but instead allows the sense of despair and horror to continue after the book has been closed. This makes it a rather uncomfortable read I suppose, as most people can do without palpitations, a dry throat, and a sense of mounting panic. It takes an incredibly talented writer to make you want to go through such a disquieting experience again, but I certainly do. I will definitely read another Patricia Highsmith novel, and will hopefully find it even better than this one.
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on December 23, 2014
After 6 great reads in quick succession I guess I was overdue for a flat tyre, and this book was it. Cardboard characters who behave unbelievably stupidly in the unlikeliest of situations and are boring while doing it. The writing too was pedestrian and at no point was I "involved" in the story or with any of the characters, apart from an occasional urge to smack one of them in the head for wasting my time and an increasingly strong urge to do the same to myself for picking up this book in the first place and then feeling obliged to finish it.

It's billed as suspense and a thriller. About as suspenseful as a commuter train ride and about as thrilling too.

Avoid it.
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on November 7, 2001
The first couple of novels by Patricia Highsmith that I read were the Ripley-series and after finishing those I was very impressed with her work. Then I decided I also have to read the rest of what she has written and finally let that marvellous Tom Ripley-character go... so the Cry Of The Owl was my next book and I must say that it is not AS brilliant as what I've read before but it was still pretty good. I was never really surprised or shocked by what the characters in this book did and there was not a great plot but thinking about the story line and the characters I must say it is an interesting book. The main character, Robert Forester, is not a twisted minded serial killer or anything but is in fact a very nice man. It is others in the story that are responsible for the killing/death, but everybody suspects Robert of killing. What this book shows is how people think that are prejudiced and how easy it is for them after only reading stories in the paper and listening to gossip to have an opinion about someone they do not even know. Like I said there is not a brilliant plot in the story but it is quite interesting. I'd say: if you like Patricia Highsmith: don't miss this one! And as far as my Patricia Highsmith reading goes: Bring on the next book!
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on March 6, 2016
This is the story of Robert, who comes to new area to escape the throes of a pending divorce from Nickie. He is a prowler ,watching Jenny. He eventually becomes involved with Jenny. She loves Robert, he is not sure. They spend nights together but do not sleep with one another. There is a strong shift in the book after Robert is physically attacked by Greg, Jenny's erstwhile fiance. This has been called Highsmith's most spectral novel. I agree. The violence in the book, from Roberts' point of view, is unwanted, unintended and inevitable. This is a very unusual but compelling story. It borders on being unbelievable, but, as usual, Highsmith gets away with it.
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on June 11, 2016
Good book. The main characters were mostly a bit strange if truth be told. I veered between feeling sorry for Robert and thinking he deserved it for being so ineffectual and indecisive. If Robert and Jenny had not met they would probably have lived reasonable normal, boring lives. In spite of the characters being unlikeable and I can't think of one other than the doctor, the story was creepy and suspenseful. The ending was left to your imagination.
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on November 13, 2000
People often, and mistakenly (in my opinion), view most works from Patricia Highsmith as 'crime novels'. The Cry of the Owl is probably no exception since it contains the requisite murders, false accusations, etc. Judged as a crime novel The Cry of the Owl is only so-so. That is, it's not a page-tuner.
However Ms. Highsmith's true genius was her ability to closely examine the psychological aspects of a criminal, victims, and related parties. In The Cry of the Owl we see how the general public can jump to conclusions when a stranger is accused of murder. While all is revealed at the end, Ms. Highsmith also lets the reader make his/her own judgement ... and so we might either fall into the "guilty until proven innocent" trap or maintain a balanced, impartial view. And she does this all in an economical, easy-to-read style that is readily accessible to most everyone.
No, The Cry of the Owl does not rank on par with her great works such as Strangers on a Train. But the growing numbers of Patricia Highsmith should put this novel on their 'must read' list.
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Patricia Highsmith is the queen of the psychological thriller. I love her writing in general and her characterizations in particular. From sociopathic con-artist Tom Ripley (in the five books in her Ripley series) to the thoroughly unforgettable Bruno and Guy duo in Strangers on a Train her characters display an ambiguity that is both unnerving to read about but also make it difficult to tear your eyes away from the page.

Sometimes quirky, sometimes devious, often displaying passive-aggressive behavior, and more often than not just down-rights nuts her characters display an ambiguity that hooks the reader and never lets go. The recently re-released The Cry of the Owl features Robert Forester, 30ish, recently divorced from the shrewish Nickie, guilt ridden and morally compromised by self-inflicted circumstances as he attempts to extricate him-self from a series of bad, and potentially deadly, situations.

Most of Highsmith's novels provide the reader with troubled moody individuals, vivid atmospheric imagery and a degree of cynicism that one can easily assume reflects the author's personal expression of own emotional commentary on the state of mankind.

If you're looking for a great discussion book for your next Book Club meeting may I recommend The Cry of the Owl or any of the aforementioned Ripley books. Highsmith's novels always provide plenty of fodder for discussion into good and evil, suppressed feelings, the psychological motivation of her characters as well as metaphoric references (why do so many of the characters in her novels have facial imperfections - moles in particular- and what do they represent)? Well, you get the idea. 4 1/2 stars
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on July 26, 2016
Highsmith sometimes depicts law enforcement as a quicksand that, once touched on, pulls helpless victims down deeper and deeper. This novel is a brilliant exploration of that theme. Robert, the central character, is a manic-depressive who is mostly depressive. He encounters Jenny, also melancholy but loving and understanding. Offsetting her are a couple of Highsmith's colorful monsters: Robert's ex-wife and Jenny's ex-boyfriend. The conflicts among these figures is as involving as appalling, and leaves Robert in deadly trouble. Robert is an inverted version of the central character in This Sweet Sickness, and Jenny is an inversion of Anabelle, of the same novel. .In both stories, tragedy strikes the bearer of unrequited love. In both, a valuable if flawed human being is sacrificed by a world that finally becomes too harsh. This is first-rate Highsmith; you will read it in one sitting.
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