I started reading The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith simply because I didn’t have any other books at hand and it was lying untouched on my sisters bookshelf. It’s a fairly short book at 252 pages and I had absolutely no idea what to expect when I picked it up. So, its major plot point hit me quite unexpectedly. If you look it up on the all-knowing, ever so useful wikipedia, its classified as a psychological thriller, which is quite accurate. Highsmith wrote five books following the life of Mr. Tom Ripley and quite honestly I don’t know that I will read any of the next ones. I can’t decide if I like this book or hate it, mostly due to the narrator, Mr. Ripley himself. The writing is excellent and the plot is fascinating, keeping you at the edge of your seat to find out what happens next. But Tom Ripley is despicable and frankly I do not like him one bit.
From here on out, its going to be spoilers galore because I can’t go through my thoughts on this novel without going into some depth about the plot. So, if you don’t want spoilers, read no further. I would recommend heading to Goodreads to get a decent overview and other reviews for the book without too many spoilers.
Okay, onward with a little bit of plot summary. Tom Ripley is a young man in New York City in the 1950s who had a bit of a rough childhood (orphaned, raised by a not so great aunt, etc) and is now attempting to make ends meet through nefarious means. From the get go, Tom Ripley bothers me. He seems lazy although intelligent and does not make much effort at all to keep a job. Instead, he tries to make a living off of insurance fraud, scamming hard working individuals out of their money. From there, he is faced with a stroke of luck when an old acquaintance’s father approaches him and offers to send him to Europe, all expenses paid, to convince his son to come back to America. Naturally, Tom accepts. While at first it seems he is going to make the most of this trip and put in an effort, that state of mind does not last long. So, to wrap up the summary here, Tom goes to Europe, meets up with his old acquaintance, Dickie Greenleaf, and his friend Marge, and spend the first third of the book lazing about on the beach, living off of Mr. Greenleaf’s money. Eventually Mr. Greenleaf cuts him off since there seems to be no progress in convincing Dickie to go back to America and Tom sees his life of luxury at risk. Coupled with this, Dickie becomes disenchanted with his presence and Marge just does not like him. So, this all culminates in Tom killing Dickie Greenleaf, assuming his identity, moving to Rome, and successfully convincing everyone that he is Dickie Greenleaf. It doesn’t stop there though. Eventually Tom encounters one of Dickie’s old friends who become suspicious, so Tom then murders him too. But then the police begin to suspect Dickie of the murder, so Tom abandons that identity, resumes being Tom Ripley, has everybody believed Dickie committed suicide, and successfully forges his will so that Dickie bequeaths everything to Tom and he can live a life of luxury in Greece.
So with that not so quick run down, I hate Tom Ripley. None of his motivations supplant his deeds and everything stems from completely selfish desires to live luxuriously with minimal amounts of work. He quite literally murders people and also ruins the happiness of those around him. I just can’t like him and I didn’t really want him to succeed, which is odd for me since he is the narrator and protagonist of the story. However, despite how much I hated Mr. Ripley, I still managed to finish the book, another oddity for me. The story line is very compelling and I couldn’t help but want to find out what does happen, despite rooting against the protagonist. With the knowledge that there are more novels following Mr. Ripley’s adventures, I was able to deduce that his deceit is successful. If anything, this actually made me want to continue reading, just to find out how he managed to get away with every thing. He made mistakes along the way and each time I was certain somebody would be able to figure it out, or at least suspect him of something. But nope, never the case. Tom Ripley was in the clear for the entire murder mystery, and it bugged me to no end.
When I started writing all this, I came across some history of the author, Patricia Highsmith. If you do read this book, I would recommend looking into her story. It didn’t change my opinion of Mr. Ripley, but it did help me understand where his character came from. Patricia Highsmith did not have a particularly amazing life and it was shadowed by a lot of rage at the world. She was unwanted by her parents and felt betrayed by society who wanted to ‘cure’ her homosexuality. Mr. Ripley became her outlet for all her pent up anger at the world. Even though I don’t like him, Highsmith does a good job of creating an intriguing character who captures your attention.
Overall, I can’t say I recommend this book but I also don’t want to tell anybody not to read it. It is an interesting read and a compelling store, just be prepared for a slightly different protagonist, who you may or may not hate. The Talented Mr. Ripley was definitely an exploration into a different genre for me and I can’t quite decide how I feel about it. It is clearly liked by many as it has multiple adaptations in file, theater, and even radio. On a completely different note, it was also an interesting look into society in the 1950s, which, as a young adult, is completely foreign to me. The entire narrative would have been completely different in modern day with cellphones and the internet accessible almost everywhere. Times have certainly changed, but the book is still, at the very least, a fascinating read.
Next up, I’m going back to my trusty fantasy genre with The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, which I have seen recommended around the internet quite a bit. I could use a book with more lovable characters next.
Read on my friend!