The Talented Mr. Ripley
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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