Blog Post 36: The Talented Mr Ripley (1956)
Tom glanced behind him and saw the man coming out of the Green Cage, heading his way. Tom walked faster. There was no doubt that the man was after him. Tom had noticed him five minutes ago, eyeing him carefully from a table, as if he weren’t quite sure, but almost. He had looked sure enough for Tom to down his drink in a hurry, pay and get out.
‘The Talented My Ripley’ is the first of five novels known collectively as the Ripliad. I’ve only read the first but I can see why Highsmith couldn’t leave Ripley alone. He’s a sociopath, psychopath, an amoral anti-hero, but such is his charm and complex depth of character, we literally want him to get away with murder.
Highsmith famously said Ripley was her. Like Ripley, she was an outsider. Like Ripley, she left America where she never found her place, choosing to spend her time in Europe. Like Ripley, she too was a complex human being. I don’t really want to talk too much about her as a person; suffice it to say she doesn’t appear to have been terribly nice, going so far as to write racist letters to the papers under a pseudonym, for example.
But there’s no doubting this is a remarkable book, far more than the mystery or detective stories popular in the USA in the 50s. It has never been out of print, has been made into films and plays, and right now is the perfect book to satisfy the current appetite for psychological thrillers. Tightly plotted, with its close third person narration, full of subtlety and existentialism, ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’ really deserves its place as a classic.
If you wanted to be cheerful, or melancholic, or wistful, or
thoughtful, or courteous, you simply had to act those
things with every gesture.
Highsmith offers no point of view other than Ripley’s and he is a character that makes you unsettled – about those you love and about yourself. Not many books play on your mind as much as this one.
And if you watch the 1999 Anthony Minghella film, don’t compare it to the novel as there are some big differences. But the essence of Tom Ripley is captured well by Matt Damon.
Believe it or not, I think I’ll be revisiting Ripley soon.