Title: The Talented Mr Ripley
Author: Patricia Highsmith
Release Date: First published in 1955, my edition is from 1999.
This is not so much a review as it is an unashamedly biased post of opinion. The Talented Mr Ripley is one of those books I’m so enthusiastic about that I struggle to string together my thoughts coherently. So instead I’ve decided just to list a few reasons why you should this book if you haven’t already. If you have read it, then let this be a timely reminder for you to give it a reread.
Tom Ripley is a fantastic character
In my opinion there aren’t enough books written from the point of view of the character who could be perceived as “the bad guy”. So it was a nice change to be in the head of a sociopath, rather than following someone who is either being tormented by the sociopath or is trying to track down the sociopath. Patricia Highsmith’s character building of Ripley is outstanding and any reader will, without doubt, find themselves cheering for Ripley and hoping he escapes unscathed.
You aren’t lying if you make it the truth
In order for Ripley to tell a lie convincingly, he must believe it himself. And in order for him to do that, he has to physically do the thing he is lying about, so that when he tells it it’s actually the truth. That probably makes very little sense, but if you read the book you’ll get it. But this aspect of Ripley’s character really reiterated to me how flexible the truth can be, and that everyone has a different truth. While the reader knows that Ripley is lying, to him he isn’t – it’s his truth of an event.
It’s better than the film adaptation
The film happened to be on tv the exact day that I picked up my copy of the book from the second-hand book store, which was obviously some kind of sign. Starring a young Matt Damon as Tom Ripley, and Jude Law as Dickie Greenleaf, it is pretty great. But there are certain aspects of Ripley’s character in the book that are all but left out of the film entirely, namely the reason why he is the way he is and it’s this which builds favourable emotion in the reader towards him. And his crimes in the film are portrayed as crimes of passion rather than them being crimes to better himself (therefore, almost not crimes in his mind). The film is more about Ripley’s relationships with others than it is a study of him as a character, which is sad because he’s one of the best characters I’ve ever read.
Highsmith’s writing is actually just the best
My absolute favourite quote from the book is when Ripley first meets Freddie Miles, who is played by Philip Seymour Hoffman in the film. It reads as follows:
“The American’s name was Freddie Miles. Tom thought he was hideous. Tom hated red hair, especially this kind of carrot-red hair with white skin and freckles. Freddie had large red-brown eyes that seemed to wobble in his head as if he were cock-eyed, or perhaps he was only one of those people who never looked at anyone they were talking to. He was also overweight.”
It’s probably the best and most complete character description I’ve ever read. Not only does it tell you what the character looks like, but it gives you an exact sense of how the main character feels about them. And later there is this, which is where the tension in the novel almost reaches breaking point and you just know what’s coming up:
“Tom stared at Dickie’s closed eye-lids. A crazy emotion of hate, of affection, of impatience and frustration was swelling in him, hampering his breathing. He wanted to kill Dickie.”
Ripley is, in a frightening way, relatable
Ok, this one I hope is not just me, because it could mean that I’m a sociopath, or maybe just a terrible person deep down. Ripley’s opinions of, and feelings about, those around him are brutally honest, from Dickie’s chatter about Freddie Miles being “as uninteresting as Freddie’s face”, to wanting to push someone into a Venice canal because they annoyed him. The fact of the matter is, is that we don’t always act towards people in the way we truly feel about them and a lot of the time it’s because we don’t want to disturb the peace or have a confrontation with someone. Then there are the times that Ripley feels “alone, and yet so much a part of things” – I think we’ve all felt like that at one time or another.
Anyway, that’s enough for now. I’ll definitely be looking for the sequels to this book and I’m keen to get my hands on more of Highsmith’s work that isn’t related to Ripley – I only just discovered that she wrote Strangers On A Train (adapted for the screen by none other than Alfred Hitchcock). She was obviously a lady with all of the talent.