Book Review: The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

The Talented Mr. Ripley
Patricia Highsmith

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’ve been wanting to read this book and I am glad I finally had the chance! I became interested last year when I read Patricia Highsmith: Her Diaries and Notebooks, 1941-1995 edited by Anna von Planta. Published in 1955, The Talented Mr. Ripley is the first in a five-book series about a sociopath who travels to Mongibello, Italy and trades identities with Dickie Greenleaf, the son of a wealthy industrialist. Herbert Greenleaf had arranged for Tom, a casual acquaintance of his son, to go to Mongibello (all expenses paid), hoping to convince his Dickie to return to New York.

The 1999 adaptation starring Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett and Philip Seymour received five Academy Award nominations. The original film was released in 1956 and stars Keeffe Brasselle, Betty Furness, William Redfield, Patricia Smith and Vaughn Taylor. There are several other adaptations and you can check them out here.

I tore through this book, considered a great classic mystery novel, which is both a psychological thriller and character study, framed by the 1950s scene of wealthy and directionless Americans hanging out in Europe. Although Tom is both a sociopath and a murderer, he is just that little bit of likable to make you feel sorry for him. He kind of reminds me of Joe Goldberg in the Netflix series You. An expert at the scam, he has a heightened awareness of other people’s traits and weaknesses and can talk his way out of almost anything. For the reader, the best part is how he does that because, at many times, you are certain it’s over for him. Highsmith explains: “His stories were good because he imagined them intensely, so intensely that he came to believe them.”

But mostly, however, Tom, at twenty-five, is lonely. He sees himself as a nobody and desperately wants to become someone else. Going to Italy was to be his clean slate, “the real annihilation of his past and of himself.” Tom’s sexual identity is also at play and this creates a tense, under-the-surface conflict. When Tom arrives in Mongibello, he immediately dislikes Marge Sherwood, Dickie’s neighbor, a young American writer who is clearly in love with Dickie. Are Dickie and Marge lovers? Tom can’t decipher the vague relationship, but his instincts identify Marge as a rival and he does everything to keep Dickie to himself.

I was both entertained and fascinated by Tom’s character and his continuous inner-dialogue because it shows his emotions and violent impulses when the people around him have no idea how dangerous he is. In many ways, he has incredible self-control, but readers know he is an internal mess.

Readers might think that the plot is unrealistic. I would disagree. If you know the show, You, Joe also gets himself out of many outrageous situations. That is what makes it so good. This is no different and even more impressive because it was written in the 1950s.

I recommend The Talented Mr. Ripley to readers who enjoy psychological thrillers, character studies and classic literature.

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33 thoughts on “Book Review: The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

    1. Hi Beth, I’m looking forward to watching the film. Highsmith’s diaries and writing journals were fascinating, but also dark and disturbing. Definitely a piece of work as you say. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  1. I’ve watched this movie, but don’t remember much about it (but what a stellar cast!). I haven’t read You, but I sure am a fan of the Netflix series. Just when I think Joe is in over his head, he finds a way out of it. Hopefully I’ll find time to read The Talented Mr. Ripley. Great review, Barbara!

    1. Hi Teri – I have to catch up on You – currently trying to finish The Wire, plus my husband and I are working our way through Melrose Place 😉 Thanks for stopping by, Teri. I’m going to watch the film soon!

    1. Hi Noelle – I haven’t watched the movie yet, so we’ll see. The one thing I know that is different is that Marge, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, is more of a plainer, practical woman with a good heart, not unattractive, though. I think she’s described as solid. I pictured someone like Barbara Bel Geddes in Vertigo, who was also secretly in love with Jimmy Stuart’s character.

  2. I must be living under a rock…I haven’t heard of the movies or the Netflix series or this book. They all sound terrific. I’m putting all on my to read/watch lists! Great review. Thanks!

    1. Hi Lynette – yes! I really enjoyed it. When you read a classic, you realize that the modern books are often using techniques that authors like Highsmith created. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. How intriguing. I remember watching the movie with Matt Damon and thought it rather interesting. I had no idea it was also a book written in the 1950s. What a talented author this Patricia Highstreet was.

    1. I didn’t either until I got into it. Now I’m glad it is because Tom Ripley’s character is a good one! Thank you for reading and commenting 🙂

    1. Hi Robbie – I was really impressed by Highsmith’s journals and diaries, although she was miserable a lot of the time and hard on people. Thank you for stopping by!

    1. You’re welcome, Marian. I don’t like to read series all in a row, but I’m interested in what Mr. Ripley does in the next book! Thank you for stopping by 🙂

    1. Hi Lauren – I get it. No time to read all the books we want to read, let alone the genres that we’re not into! Thank you for your nice words 🤗

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