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L. Minker "Lynsey M" (London)

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The Talented Mr. Ripley
The Talented Mr. Ripley
by Patricia Highsmith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars classy detective fiction, 21 Nov. 2006
Patricia Highsmith's first book in the Mr Ripley series sets the talented young man in Italy, at the request of Dickie Greenleaf's father. Ripley is charged with convincing Dickie to return home, closer to his ailing mother and closer to his father's boat building business. However Mr Greenleaf senior does not really understand Mr Ripley, he is a the young insurance executive but a man lost in New York, looking for any opening or scam. So when Ripley arrives in the small town of Mongibello and finds Dickie living an easy life surrounded by wealth and leisure he decides he might just stay a while. He befriends Dickie at first, but a conflict with Dickie's close friend Marge causes his alliance with Dickie to fall apart and Ripley soon comes to despise Dickie the person. But not, significantly, the image of Dickie - Dickie the icon. I'm sure I won't be giving too much away if I reveal that Ripley murders Dickie and impersonates him with relish across Italy and France, always trying to keep ahead of the police and the private investigator Mr Greenleaf senior has hired.

I read the book in a single, sharply focussed burst and felt the warm glow of satisfaction - still thinking about how immaculately the book was executed for days afterward. Indeed it's a tribute to Partritia Highsmith's insight, research and efficient prose that we feel a real part of Ripley's crimes and impersonations. Although he's a murderer, thief and scheming fraudster, never are we not routing for his escape and enduring freedom. Not an easy feat since I can hardly list a single positive trait in Ripley's character.

There are a few loose ends here. Ripley seems to be a totally sexless young man, perhaps the subtext is that he's homosexual. Marge suggests it and Ripley is highly offended by the suggestion. This is the closest we get even of the remotest sexual expression shown by Ripley. He seems to get all his kicks in impersonations and crime. I will add that this is the first in a series, so perhaps I'll soon find new depths in Ripley's character. It certainly has left me wanting more and I would recommend The Talented Mr Ripley to anybody.

Your Face Tomorrow 1: Fever and Spear: Fever and Spear v. 1 (Your Face Tomorrow Trilogy)
Your Face Tomorrow 1: Fever and Spear: Fever and Spear v. 1 (Your Face Tomorrow Trilogy)
by Javier Marias
Edition: Paperback

24 of 32 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Bright start, disappointment follows, 19 Oct. 2006
I first heard about the second book in this three part series through a friend whose opinion I trusted. I thought that I should start with the first in the series, Your Face Tomorrow series, Fear and Spear.

It's centred around Jacques Deza, an ex-teacher, broadcaster, and academic who is on the run from a failed marriage and family in Madrid. Jacques is talent spotted by a retired Oxford Don for his unusual talent, for he has the ability to see certain traits in people. From their appearance, mannerisms, from their subtle actions he can see people and understand them; understand them better than they can understand themselves. He is introduced to the mysterious Tupra who puts him to work in interpreting certain individuals - spies, revolutionaries, bad debtors - and in finding out what they will become in the future.

There's no denying it's a useful tool, for what is the novelist doing but interpreting the actions of others? Analysing their feelings and emotions: trying to get to their very core. And this book is well written, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa.

After reading my lukewarm praise the attentive reader is undoubtedly waiting for some sort of qualifier, a but or however. And it's difficult to know where to start because from a very promising opening, full of insight and wit and intrigue, I began to feel the book fall apart in my hands. What started off as sharp observation and shrewd interpretation slowly descended into a tone of over intellectualisation and didacticism. In one particular extract Deza is reading of the Spanish civil war after a dinner party in the Don's house. On a trip to an upstairs library he stumbles across a bloodstain. There then follows a multi-page analysis of the stain, "what is the hardest to get rid of with bloodstains is the rim, the circle, the circumference..." He labours to marry this notion to the idea that we all strive to leave our mark on the world, "to cling on". It is easy to imagine the pitfalls that might befall the intrepid Jacques as he goes to post a letter: `the brackish taste from the stamp on my tongue fading as the letter is transported across the country, the clarity of both fading from my memory and consciousness...'

I would love to tell you more of the book's plot; Jacques goes to work for Tupra and interprets a few characters including a showboating musician and debates whether, and under what circumstances, the man would be capable of murder. And then the book finishes with a weak cliff-hanger, not leaving the reader wanting more, just with the short lasting residue of indifference.

Perhaps the second book in the three part series, which my friend recommended, is worth reading. Perhaps it's sustained by a narrative which holds the attention throughout. I however won't be finding out and nor will I be reading any more of a certain friend's recommendations.
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