I was halfway through writing my debut novel, The Girl With a Clock for a Heart, when I realized that a character in my story, Irene, not only served the same narrative purpose as the character Midge in Hitchcock’s 1958 masterpiece Vertigo, but that she looked like her as well. I had described Irene, who is the protagonist’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, as having shoulder-length blonde hair that flips out a little, and as wearing glasses. That’s Midge, all right, as played by the excellent Barbara Bel Geddes. So now I’m telling people that Irene is an homage to Midge—and she is, of course—but, in reality, the character just bubbled up out of my subconscious. Not surprising, since my subconscious is absolutely jam-packed with the films of Alfred Hitchcock, and has been, ever since I was a kid.
My introduction to the Master of Suspense was not from a movie, but from a record album. It was called Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Ghost Stories for Young People, and my sister and I used to listen to this album in a dark crawlspace in our house that we’d transformed into a play area. Needless to say, the album was terrifying, and Alfred Hitchcock’s voice—he introduced each of the narrated stories—became fused in my mind with creepy entertainment. And creepy entertainment is the best kind—I thought that then, and I still think it now.
When I became a teenager, and a budding film fanatic, I found out that Hitchcock was not just a narrator of ghost stories, but also a film director. I caught several of his films on television, Dial M for Murder and The Birds are two I specifically remember, and, later, managed to see several others—The 39 Steps, Notorious—at The Brattle Theatre, a repertory movie house in Harvard Square. I loved his films not just for their plotlines, but also for their style, their music, and their humor. And almost all of Hitchcock’s films stand up to repeated viewings. You can watch Rear Window for the sheer entertainment of its plot, or for the sheer beauty of Grace Kelly in dresses designed by Edith Head, but you can watch it again for its sophisticated subtext, or even for its technical mastery—I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a film with such a remarkable sound design, with all those snatches of music and dialogue floating across the apartment courtyard.
Because of this Hitchcock obsession, it was only natural that I figured out a writing project that would allow me to watch the entire canon. I had written a sonnet in the voice of the second Mrs. DeWinter from Hitchcock’s film version of Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca, and it gave me the idea that I should write a sonnet for all 53 of Hitchcock’s films. I called it The Hitchcock Sequence, and it was one of the most enjoyable writing projects I’ve given myself. I re-watched the films I’d seen before, and watched several films for the first time. What I discovered about Hitchcock is that even his worst films—Number 17 and Torn Curtain come to mind—are filled with arresting images and cinematic ideas. There are duds, but there are no boring duds (well, The Farmer’s Wife, maybe).
So I guess it’s not a surprise that some readers are noting how Hitchcockian my first book is, even though I never consciously thought of it that way. But it does involve an innocent man dragged into a criminal plot, a woman with several identities, and, of course, its very own Midge from Vertigo. And being compared to Hitchcock is certainly a comparison I’ll take, any day of the week. I’ll fall short, of course, but I can’t think of a better ghost story reader or Hollywood director to have as an inspiration.
The Girl With a Clock for a Heart is published by Faber