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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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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.
It is less than 250 pages, split into 30 chapters. The book can be read as a straight forward thriller with a breathless pace to the plot. It is so much more than that though. The characterisation of Tom Ripley is a psychological analysis that was very advanced for it's time. Profiling of criminals is very common now but would have been cutting edge when this was written.
There is a lot of mystery and unanswered questions throughout the book which kept me reading - this made it a very enjoyable book to read.
The author has a talent of being able to describe something in a very few words. I could imagine sitting in the cafes and soaking up the sun.
Although the book is based in the 50s, the time period is not a major part of the book and I got the feeling that it could have been set anytime. However, the elegant style of the writing firmly places the novel in the 1950s/60s - there was a definate feeling of Raymond Chandler! It is atmospheric to the extreme in it's use of the wonderful European cities and villages that Tom visits.
As the book progresses the plot gets darker, with Tom getting deeper into the web of lies and deception that he weaves around his stories.
It is quite a small book and very powerful due to so much being packed it. Nothing happens that is not completely necessary to the development of the story - I would have liked to be able to sit and read it in one sitting, but life doesn't work like that!
I also enjoyed the third person narrative that works particularly well to make the reader seem like the observer. We do get into Tom's head but we never empathise with him, forcing us to find him a curiosity. We see him as others do but also try to understand his motives (without complete success).
A great example of a 1950s crime book. I'm not a big fan of this type of book but pleased that I read it and could have an opinion - worth reading by anyone.