The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

The Talented Mr. Ripley -  Patricia Highsmith

 

**Please note that this review is LOADED with spoilers! If you plan to read this book in the future, you should! But you should NOT continue to read this review.**

 

To Tom Ripley, being bored, being around dull people and having nothing to do are among the WORST things in existence. Of course, he never has to be bored again after brutally murdering his friend and assuming his identity.

 

Tom is recruited by Mr. Greenleaf, (the father of Tom's acquaintance, Dickie), to bring his son home from Italy. Tom is even given a hefty sum with which to support himself in Italy while working his come-home-magic on his friend. Unfortunately, Ripley has no luck persuading Dickie to do anything, other than to get stumbling drunk nearly every minute of the day. Then, shortly after an awkward scene where Tom is caught trying on Dickie's clothes, Tom decides to whack Dickie and that's where this story really begins.

 

I'd seen the movie with Matt Damon a long time ago, but I've always been fascinated with the character of Tom Ripley and wanted to read the book for myself. In the 50's, stories from the viewpoint of the murderer were rare, not like today. I think it was also rare, (feel free to correct me), to have the antagonist be likable at times. I mean, there you are, in Ripley's mind- rolling along thinking about your afternoon cocktails and that evening's parties and then BAM! He's whacking someone across the head with an oar. And then whacking them again. And then across their neck. And then stabbing them with it as if it were a sharp instrument. He's wheezing and out of breath and he's still going. And there's the reader, a bit stunned, wondering how we got to this point and where did everything go wrong? This right here is what I liked best about the story.

 

Now we have Criminal Minds and FBI profilers that write books about serial killers, sociopaths and the like. In the 50's when this book was written, that was not the case. I think Patricia Highsmith had the thought processes of Ripley down pat. Nothing is ever his fault. He is just so clever and everyone else so dull and stupid. The depravity of his thoughts are presented so matter-of-fact-ly that they could almost pass for normal. His ability to read the emotions and thoughts of others and anticipate what they'll do and how they'll react in certain situations is astonishing. It's almost like Ripley was not a person at all, but instead just a collection of facial expressions and witty banter wrapped around an all encompassing greed. He was a mimic of a person. He had nothing within himself-all that he was came from outside.

 

"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."

 

He was so good at his machinations that he, himself believed them. He would imagine scenes in his head over and over again-so they would become real. To him, real in his head equated to real in reality. He believed so totally and utterly that it was easy for him to make others believe too. To me, this is where the strength of this book lies-the creation of Tom Ripley. He is such a fascinating character that I can see myself reading this again in the future.

 

This story really wouldn't work in today's world, with all of our phones and cameras and facial recognition software: in that regard The Talented Mr. Ripley is dated. However, as far as the creation of a believable sociopath, Tom Ripley would be right at home in an episode of Criminal Minds-and he would give the investigators a good run for their money.

 

Highly recommended!