The Talented Mr Ripley (Patricia Highsmith)

Patricia-Highsmith-in-1962-Talented-Mr.-Ripley-US-1st-EditionA deeply amoral thriller, and none the worse for that. Written in the 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. Get ready for a double life, and at times, a triple life of complications.

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. 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. These include the police, Richard’s father, Marge, and anyone else who gets in his way.

Highsmith’s writing style is lucid and fresh, she builds up tension in scenes gripping the reader to impatiently read on to their conclusion. The prose in this book is often riveting, this is Highsmith at her best keeping the readers emotions on a roller-coaster all the way through the book. Cleverly creating tension and suspense in the lead up to the two murders Ripley commits. The only gaping flaw in the storyline was when the Italian police failed to check out Ripley’s claim about buying a car that he’d purported to have lived in for a few months. If the police had bothered to verify his claim Ripley’s game would have been up. Nevertheless given this oversight the story still remains exceptional.

Highsmith created a most interesting character in Ripley and you can feel him breath from the pages. Ripley is, in some ways, an immature individual who has a need to please; he finds this can be parlayed into a talent for fraud, impersonation and getting away with murder. His journey towards this discovery is a great read: the reader sees his gradual change in ethics from small-time crook to amoral murderer, a man who can justify to himself the killing of innocent people. While it is couched in terms of wanting to see Italian art, or a wish to visit Paris, there can be no doubting that Ripley is a classic psychopath. Other people are disposable; everything must be arranged for his benefit; what he needs he takes.

The downside of this is that the other characters are somewhat supine or ineffectual. Ripley needs, it would seem, a suitably capable and complex foil, or nemesis, to really bring out the depth of his depravity and ingenuity. But this aside, the novel is a fine read and the introduction to a superb character who clearly has many more facets to uncover. Modern readers may be startled by the description of Ripley as “innocent and clean-minded.” He is clearly a virgin and may, or may not, be gay but still has a prepubescent boy’s view of sex as being “icky”. (In one instance he is horrified by a glimpse of female underwear) Whether this is realistic or not doesn’t matter I suppose. Just enjoy those exotically vivid descriptions of Rome and Mongibello, in the elegant and detached writing style of Patricia Highsmith.

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Comments

  1. I love this book. I’m pleased to see you are enthusiastic about it too. Have you read her other Ripley books – I thing there’s another three – “Ripley Underground”, “Ripley’s Game” (which is not quite as good as “The Talented..” but it’s still a corker) and “The Boy Who Followed Ripley”. All worth reading if you haven’t done so. These are the only Patricia Highsmith books I have read – I must get round to reading more because she writes so well

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is the first Patricia Highsmith book I’ve read. For years I was curious, because of other people raving about her, but only recently have I made the effort. Thanks for letting me know that the sequels are excellent too, Phil.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for this review, I’ll have to check out this book! The 1999 film adaptation is one of my favourite films and I highly recommend you give it a view if you’re so inclined (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0134119/)! I found Ripley (the film version in any case) a very human and tragic character.

    Liked by 1 person

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