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The Talented Mr. Ripley Paperback – June 17, 2008
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“The brilliance of Highsmith's conception of Tom Ripley was her ability to keep the heroic and demonic American dreamer in balance in the same protagonist―thus keeping us on his side well after his behavior becomes far more sociopathic than that of a con man like Gatsby.”
- Frank Rich, New York Times Magazine
“[Highsmith] has created a world of her own―a world claustrophobic and irrational which we enter each time with a sense of personal danger.”
- Graham Greene
“Mesmerizing... a Ripley novel is not to be safely recommended to the weak-minded or impressionable.”
- Washington Post Book World
“The most sinister and strangely alluring quintet the crime-fiction genre has ever produced.”
- Mark Harris, Entertainment Weekly
“Highsmith's subversive touch is in making the reader complicit with Ripley's cold logic.”
- Daily Telegraph (UK)
“[Highsmith] forces us to re-evaluate the lines between reason and madness, normal and abnormal, while goading us into sharing her treacherous hero's point of view.”
- Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
“[Tom Ripley] is as appalling a protagonist as any mystery writer has ever created.”
“Savage in the way of Rabelais or Swift.”
- Joyce Carol Oates, New York Review of Books
“For eliciting the menace that lurks in familiar surroundings, there's no one like Patricia Highsmith.”
“Murder, in Patricia Highsmith's hands, is made to occur almost as casually as the bumping of a fender or a bout of food poisoning. This downplaying of the dramatic... has been much praised, as has the ordinariness of the details with which she depicts the daily lives and mental processes of her psychopaths. Both undoubtedly contribute to the domestication of crime in her fiction, thereby implicating the reader further in the sordid fantasy that is being worked out.”
- Robert Towers, New York Review of Books
About the Author
Patricia Highsmith (1921–1995) was the author of more than twenty novels, including Strangers on a Train, The Price of Salt, The Blunderer and The Talented Mr. Ripley, as well as numerous short stories.
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Tom Ripley is sent to Europe by Mr. Greenleaf to bring his son, "Dickie", back to the United States. Tom is a nobody who is bedazzled by Dickie's rich and bohemian lifestyle once he meets him in Southern Italy. Tom becomes Dickie's friend, and everything seems fine until Tom decides he wants to be more than his friend.
As in the "Picture of Dorian Gray", you will not learn life lessons or come out as a better person from reading "The Talented Mr. Ripley", and that is why I like him: he is a real character, like there are so many among us, who also deserves to be the star of books. Why is he one of my favorite characters in literature?
“I can’t make up my mind whether I like men or women,” he jokes, “so I’m thinking of giving them both up.”
“They were not friends. They didn't know each other. It struck Tom like a horrible truth, true for all time, true for the people he had known in the past and for those he would know in the future: each had stood and would stand before him, and he would know time and time again that he would never know them, and the worst was that there would always be the illusion, for a time, that he did know them, and that he and they were completely in harmony and alike. For an instant the wordless shock of his realization seemed more than he could bear.”
"He loved possessions, not masses of them, but a select few that he did not part with. They gave a man self-respect. Not ostentation but quality, and the love that cherished the quality. Possessions reminded him that he existed, and made him enjoy his existence. It was as simple as that. And wasn't that worth something? He existed. Not many people in the world knew how to, even if they had the money. It really didn't take money, masses of money, it took a certain security."
“He remembered that right after that, he had stolen a loaf of bread from a delicatessen counter and had taken it home and devoured it, feeling that the world owed a loaf of bread to him, and more.”
“If you wanted to be cheerful, or melancholic, or wistful , or thoughtful, or courteous, you simply had to act those things with every gesture.”
In addition to this wonderful character, Patricia Highsmith's skills as a writer are to be highlighted. Tom's joy about the anticipation of having his dreams come true and his apprehension about the possibility of such dreams being shattered are a delight to read. I could not help siding with him the entire time, despite the fact that he is anything but a role model.
I do have an issue with the credibility of the plot at times. Perhaps, the guilibility of the characters in this novel reflects that of people's at a certain place and time - rich Americans and the Italian police of 1955 Italy - but sometimes the plot surpasses the line of reality and reason. In addition, I wish that Dickie and Marge had been developed a bit more in depth, considering the important role they play in justifying some of Tom's actions, because Tom's attitude towards them can seem gratuitous.
Despite these minor flaws, this is one of my favorite novels by the talented Ms. Highsmith, who is also one of my favorite writers.
Everyone liked this book a lot and some loved it, but most had a few quibbling reservations. Mostly, we were surprised at the empathy Highsmith could get us to feel toward a murderer. We all want to cheer for the underdog, but this seemed like an extreme accomplishment for the author.
Someone raised the question (especially after reading "The Charioteer" by Mary Renault a few months ago), why is it that women in the '50's could write about gay men so openly and so well? Is there any parallel to gay or straight men at any time writing so clearly about lesbians?
"The Talented Mr. Ripley" must be a period piece: Modern police practice (think of "CSI" or any "Law and Order" franchise or even "Columbo") would never allow Tom Ripley to get away with his paper-thin deceptions. So the fascination with the story comes from several other points.
Tom is clearly queer and Highsmith has interesting ways to signal his queerness and his life on the "down low" in 1955. Again, Highsmith writes openly and yet subtly about Tom's queerness, but those of use who have learned to read between the lines clearly recognize Tom as gay gay gay. We raised the question but never fully decided whether or not his first victim, Dickie (Dickie?!?) Greenleaf, was queer or Tom was jealous of Dickie, or he was a love-interest that needed to be moved out of the way for Tom to assume his rightful role.
The most interesting aspect of the novel is the adopting of a new identity. The psychology of Tom Ripley is fascinating. He's a narcissist but the reasons for it (such as being raised by a dragon-lady aunt) as well as his early con games and acting lessons that lead to his full-fledged sociopathology is something to follow carefully. Slowly he tests becoming another person before he quickly fills the role and then jumps back out of it, as required. There's also something very 1950's (and unhealthily) queer about Tom's attitudes toward women. Without the nearly perfect psychologizing, the book could merely be viewed as a tract on how sometimes evil does triumph over good.
There were a few reservations: At times the book can seem a bit plodding with unnecessary characters and red herring occurrences. Whether this is because authors of the period felt the need to give a full-length book, or the convention of psychological and suspenseful mysteries require them seemed unclear.
Ultimately, the book is about identity: how we form it in ourselves, and how a duplicitous character can bend it to become someone else. And, like all thrillers, how can luck play a major part in covering and uncovering a murderer.