No 326 The Other by Thomas Tryon

Thomas Tryon (Tom Tryon) originally found fame as a successful Hollywood actor, playing the lead in The Cardinal and acting opposite John Wayne in The Longest Day. Disillusioned with the profession, he retired in 1969, turning to writing, and his debut horror novel The Other, published in 1971, was a critical and commercial success, selling over 3.5 million copies before being adapted for the big screen in 1972. The Other, along with Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist were the forerunners of the horror-novel craze of the 1970s.

The Other unravels over the summer of 1935 on a farm in the fictional bucolic New England community of Pequot Landing. The novel is told from the perspective of two identical twin boys, Niles and Holland Perry. As with most fictional twins, they have a close bond, bordering on telepathy, despite having very different dispositions. Holland is the sly, secretive instigator, while Niles is the docile follower.

Niles found Holland strange, unpliant, and distant. Often secretive, brooding. Of a dark nature. Holland was his own person, a loner and who was there could do anything about that?

Their father died the previous year, the result of an inexplicable accident in the apple cellar, and his death has left their mother bed-ridden in a state of mental shock. As such, they are left to their own devices, with no adult to supervise or guide them. As a coping mechanism, they play a ‘Great Game’, taught to them by their Russian grandmother Ada. The ‘game’ involves them pretending to be other beings – animals or even plants – literally placing their own minds into the mind of something else in a form of astral projection of the imagination. Niles enjoys the game as a fun distraction, but Holland uses it for more devious purposes and as their family is plagued by more tragedy, the psychological impact of the turmoil within the family unit comes to the surface.

Tryon uses the trope of ‘spooky twins’ to subtle effect. Although he might suggest that one twin is good and the other evil, it becomes clear, through impressive plotting and pacing, that the situation in the Perry household might not be as morally or psychologically clear-cut as it appears. As Niles relates the events taking place, a sense of uncertainty pervades the narrative shifts constantly, elusive and difficult to pin down.

Things cannot ever be the same again. Not for any of us. Not anymore. We sometimes reach a point in our lives when we can’t ever go back a gain, we have to go on from here. All that was before is past now. it went too far. Everything went too far…

The ‘game’ that is so central to the narrative is vividly described and it’s interesting to note that it draws on Tryon’s background in acting by exploring the use of performance as a means to conceal reality. When Niles plays this game, he is not actually projecting himself onto another being, he is in fact going deeper in to his own psyche, tapping in to all the emotion that he has repressed.   

And it is that repressed emotion that is at the heart of The Other, which is a striking portrait of grief and how it can become the defining aspect of a life. Following the death of their father, and the confinement of their mother, the boys have no adult figure to guide them through their loss, or show them how to more forward and as such they turn inward with devastating consequences. The novel is a lyrical exploration of the end of childhood, the loss of innocence and a nostalgia for a past that may, or may not have existed.

I personally would not class The Other as a straightforward work of horror, for me the writer whose work it most evokes is Shirley Jackson.  Dorothy Parker called Shirley Jackson an “unparalleled leader in the field of beautifully written, quiet, cumulative shudders” and to my mind, Tryon creates that same kind of atmosphere of pervasive, creeping dread.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some genuinely frightening moments in this book, but as with the best horror writing, the fear is used as a means to explore the vagaries of the human mind.

Read on: Book
Number Read: 420
Number Remaining: 326

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Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

13 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Hi Cathy – I had not heard of this book but I think I would like it – I like both coming of age and psychological stories and a little bit of horror. Thanks for reviewing it. Another one off your list!


  2. Ooh, I love the idea of the Great Game. I used to do something similar as a child but with paintings—try to get myself “inside” them so that I could look out. Hopefully that’s not a warning sign of a disturbed mind…


  3. Hi Cathy! Tried to leave a comment earlier, but wordpress did something weird, so I’ll try again! I read The Other many years ago, and liked it, although less so than Tryon’s other horror story, Harvest Home, which was much more a graphic, traditional folk horror type novel. Now I suspect my reaction would be quite different, with The Other coming out ahead; as you point out, the horror genre is quite effective when used to explore psychological themes.. Thanks for a great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I went through a massive horror phase in my teens and early 20s but aside from a couple of Shirley Jacksons it’s not a genre I read. But this sounds excellent. I like the way you explain that it has strong psychological leanings…


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