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The Talented Mr. Ripley Paperback – 5 Aug 1999
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One of the great crime novels of the 20th century, Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley is a blend of the narrative subtlety of Henry James and the self- reflexive irony of Vladimir Nabokov. Like the best modernist fiction, Ripley works on two levels. First, it is the story of a young man, Tom Ripley, whose nihilistic tendencies lead him through a deadly passage across Europe. On another level, the novel is a commentary on fiction making and techniques of narrative persuasion. Like Humbert Humbert, Tom Ripley seduces readers to empathise with him even as his actions defy all moral standards.
The novel begins with a play on James's The Ambassadors. Tom Ripley is chosen by the wealthy Herbert Greenleaf to retrieve Greenleaf's son, Dickie, from his overlong sojourn in Italy. Dickie, it seems, is held captive both by the Mediterranean climate and the attractions of his female companion, but Mr. Greenleaf needs him back in New York to help with the family business. With an allowance and a new purpose, Tom leaves behind his dismal city apartment to begin his career as a return escort. But Tom, too, is captivated by Italy. He is also taken with the life and looks of Dickie Greenleaf. He insinuates himself into Dickie's world and soon finds that his passion for a lifestyle of wealth and sophistication transcends all moral compunction. Tom will become Dickie Greenleaf--at all costs.
Unlike many modernist "experiments", The Talented Mr. Ripley is eminently readable and is driven by a gripping chase narrative that chronicles each of Tom's calculated manoeuvres of self-preservation. Highsmith was in peak form with this novel, and her ability to enter the mind of a sociopath and view the world through his disturbingly amoral eyes is a model that has spawned such latter-day serial killers as Hannibal Lechter.-- Patrick O'Kelley
"Ripley, amoral, hedonistic and charming, is a genuinely original creation" (Daily Telegraph)
"As haunting and harrowing a study of a schizophrenic murder as paper will bear. A glittering addition to the meagre ranks of people who make books that you really can't put down" (Sunday Times)
"Precisely plotted, stylishly written and kept alert by an icy wit. Streets ahead of the conventional thriller: a cool little classic of its kind" (Evening Standard)
"An outstanding thriller which has deservedly become a classic" (Spectator)
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When we first meet Tom he is living hand to mouth in New York, carrying out a confidence scam, but one that will never be able to get him much money, as he hasn’t planned it out fully. His only hope is if someone pays him cash. But then Herbert Greenleaf steps into his life, as Ripley knew his son and Herbert is hoping that if he gives Tom an all expenses trip to Mongibello in Southern Italy, he will be able to persuade his son Dickie to return to the fold and take up a position in the family business.
It is because Highsmith really takes on the task of portraying such a complex character as Ripley that this book has always proved popular. Amoral, certainly a psychopath, Tom is also gay, although very much in the closet, indeed you get the impression that he kids himself that he isn’t, and that although obviously attracted to men, sex is something that he considers a bit dirty. There are so many facets to this person’s character that although we see him killing people we also feel some sympathy for him. We know that he had visions of being an actor and these never came to fruition, but we see him here take on the aspects of play acting as he imagines situations and mimics others so that he can deal with certain situations.
Only of moderate intelligence we read how Ripley murders others, but not necessarily the in depth thought of how to cover his tracks properly, or even committing a crime at a correct time. Thus a game of cat and mouse is played with the Italian police as Ripley has to use all his skills and trust to a certain amount of luck if he is to get away with his crimes.
A quite dark read but one that is fulfilling this is always worth reading, and is a good way to get into the head of a psychopath. Although here we find ourselves strangely rooting for the killer, and hoping that he isn’t arrested.
First published in 1955 and written in limited third person, Patricia Highsmith allows us into the thoughts, actions, and motivations of Tom Ripley, a totally insidious personality who is at once charming and frighteningly devious. We are privy to his feelings of guilt and repelled by how he justifies his murderous actions, amazed at his daring, and impressed by how skillfully he manipulates and deceives others, including the police, Richard's father, Marge, and anyone else who gets in his way.
What I love about this book is not only the tortuous plot that you really do have to keep up with to fully appreciate Patricia Highsmith's writing skill, (it can't be that difficult as I managed it!) and the skill of Tom Ripley but that there is no strong language, no excessively graphic scenes of violence or sex, none of the cheap thrills that you get in a lot of modern murder/thrillers. The clever plot is simply outstanding. It's no wonder that Alfred Hitchcock chose to make a movie out of Highsmith's first book, Strangers on a Train, in 1951.
This is a list of Highsmith's 'Ripley' books:
The Talented Mr Ripley - 1955
Ripley Under Ground - 1970
Ripley's Game - 1974
The Boy Who Followed Ripley - 1980
Ripley Under Water - 1991
I bought all mine as 'Very Good Condition' used paperbacks. The Talented Mr Ripley came via World of Books, Amazon. It arrived in excellent condition, just as described.
Patricia Highsmith (1921-95) was born in Texas and later lived in New York. The Talented Mr Ripley movie (1999) starring Matt Damon, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow was based on the first in a series of Tom Ripley books. The movie follows the book quite closely in part but the book's plot is far too complex for all the detail to be included in a 139 minute movie. Ripley's Game (2002), another excellent movie, was based on the third book of the series, and starred John Malkovich.
The characterisation of Tom Ripley in this book is faultless. You do get much more idea of him as a person, particularly in the short but effective flashbacks to his troubled childhood (which is also where you gain your sympathy for him). His journey to Europe and the tangled web that is weaved there is extremely absorbing. In the Venice scenes too you get disturbing glimpses of Ripley's horror of close physical contact with the female sex, even to the extent where he is revolted by seeing a lady guest's underwear draped over her bedroom chair. It is hardly surprising that Patricia Highsmith has drawn such a complex character study, she was infatuated with her creation, to the point that she would sign letters from both herself and Tom!
The other books in the Ripley series are well worth reading but, to my mind, don't quite match the first. A lot of Ripley's mystique disappears when he's leading his comfortable artsy-fartsy life in France, (and in "The Boy Who Followed Ripley", a very late book in the series, I felt Highsmith was a tad TOO delicate about his sexuality, although the Berlin scenes have a sort of 1970s fascination), but in this, the first, where he's a loner travelling across Europe, this is a must-read.
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I've never really been interested in crime fiction but this has ignited a new found love.Read more
I had tried other Highsmith novels and not been gripped by them.Read more