Monday, July 10, 2017

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

Pretty, is it not?  This is Hercule's pruning job on my centerpiece.  Ah, well.  It kept him occupied long enough for me to write this review.

I am listening to The Introduction and Moonlight Music from Richard Strauss' Opera Capriccio.

The Talented Mr. Ripley (Ripley, #1)The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a ponder-provoking book. I won't give the plot away since I don't know if there's someone out there who hasn't seen the movie with Matt Damon; so I will give the premise and then my thoughts.

Thomas Ripley is a crook living in New York City. He scams people by fooling them into thinking they owe on their insurance. He has quite a few checks to cash from all the people he has tooled.

He meets a Mr. Greenleaf who sends him on a quest to Europe to persuade his son Richard, known as "Dicky", to return home and carry on the family business. Ripley agrees to this because he is paid handsomely and he sees future dividends.

While Ripley sails for Italy he begins re-inventing himself. He acquires a certain persona while on the ship and then another as he meets Dickie and his friend Marge in Mongibello.

When he meets Dickie, after a little bit of posturing, he lays his cards on the table and tells him his dad sent him hoping to get him to return to the states. But Ripley decides that he doesn't want Dickie to return to the states because he doesn't want to return.

If, like me, you knew you were reading a Crime Noir book, you were not surprised to see Ripley reveal in increments his sociopathic personality. It was obvious from the start that he was a crook but the way he swindled Greenleaf into thinking he was a good friend of Dickie and the way he would giggle uncontrollably to himself when thinking over his ludicrous opportunities, the reader can gain he is mentally ill.

I've read other reviews that say that this was the popular homosexual cliche of the fifties, which was to portray unstable people as gay as a symptom of emotional instability. I doubt this because Patricia Highsmith was a lesbian and I see no motive for her to follow this trend, if it was a trend.

However, I do think Highsmith pours her persona into her anti-hero. Ripley has a horrible relationship with his Aunt who raised him and it is implied that her domineering personality ruined him. Highsmith had a similar relationship with her own mother who she claims told her that she tried to abort her by taking turpentine.

The story is an interesting study of a person with a schizoid personality disorder. Ripley has certain desires and he carefully plans how to achieve these desires.

He develops an unhealthy, obsessive relationship with Dickie, whom he barely knows and who has given him little encouragement. Nevertheless, Ripley is persuaded that Dickie does not love or care for Marge, an author and friend (or girlfriend; it's unclear) and Marge is nursing an unrealistic fantasy of marrying Dickie.

Somehow Ripley persuades Dickie to go on a brief vacation with him. I'm still not sure of the motives and perhaps Ripley wasn't either, but he decides that if he cannot have Dickie, no one will and he murders him.

The rest of the movie is a highly suspenseful battle of chess moves and counter moves as Ripley alternately impersonates Dickie and plays himself while traveling through Italy to avoid suspicion as Dickie's disappearance becomes known and is investigated.

Whether Ripley became a popular anti-hero, I don't know. Apparently there are many Ripley novels. I found him to be a sad person and the ending may or may not surprise or satisfy you. He is simply a man who is satisfied with carnal cravings and he has no moral compunction about feeding those cravings. If that's all there is to life, how empty for him.

It makes me wonder if Highsmith wasn't living her own fantasy through her creation. Did she feel alienated? Was this her way of lashing out?

As propelling as the story line was, the ending left me flat and I am not motivated to read anymore of the Talented Mr. Ripley. As far as I am concerned he can Rest in Peace.

On a positive note, the book can marginally serve as a colorful travelogue for those who like to vicariously enjoy traveling across Europe.

View all my reviews


  1. Great review Sharon.

    I have seen the movie but I have not read the book.

    Hercaloo probably thought that he was helping :)

    Ripley seems an odd character to build an entire series of books around.

    I think that some writers do live a sort of dark fantasy thorough their villainous creations. I think that how deeply they relate to these characters vary from just having a little fun all the way to full scale identification.

    1. HI Brian. That would be a great study, wouldn't it? Which authors are living through their characters and why.

      Reading other reviews, Ripley seems to have become a kind of weird hero for some readers. The stories are well done and suspenseful no doubt, but I couldn't see myself rooting for him.

  2. Sharon,

    I have seen the film and read the book. After reading the book, I was impressed enough to want to read the others in the series. But, that was several years ago, and I've made no effort to read any of the others.

    I'm not certain why I haven't, for it was a well-written book and Ripley was expertly depicted. Perhaps, after the initial enthusiasm had worn off, I unconsciously decided that enough was enough. The brief blurbs I had read about the others suggested that it was more of the same, so it was unnecessary to go on.

    1. Hi Fred. The book was well written and Ripley is an intriguing character, no doubt. But his psychopathic personality is disturbing and I'm not sure I want to follow any more of his adventures.

      It is true, as you say, that author's can sometimes be redundant. They have a great formula but it can only interest us for so long.

  3. i never heard of "Capriccio" before; tx for the intro to a lovely work... i tried 3 times to get into a Ripley( the library seems to have every book written about him at the same time of getting rid of all the Innes and Crispin grrr..) but got totally turned off, so gave up on the idea...
    H is obviously a gifted individual with a lot of potential... he needs some paint and his own studio to work in(haha)...

    1. You know, library buyers and sellers are a funny thing. In New Jersey, the town I lived in had a smallish library but they had every book you could hope to borrow. The person in charge of that was fantastic.

      Here in the great land of Longview, good luck. Although I have to say they are improving on their electronic library. And I just checked and they have Innes and Crispin so I guess I can't judge them too harshly.

      And we just discovered a new talent with little Miss Hercaloo. She likes to sing. Not in front of people. She was inside a cereal box (double wide) on top of her cage singing her little heart out. When I came in she popped her head out and refused to make a peep. She's so cute to listen to.

    2. puccini? monteverdi? amazing avian prodigy!

    3. Ha, ha! It did sound operatic but I couldn't quite catch the translation. It must have been in parrot.

    4. insensitive of me not to notice H is a she not a he... mea maxima culpa...

    5. Well...I'm not exactly sure. The males develop a red line around the neck and the females don't. Hercaloo has a light green ring,but she is only a year old and the ring can take 3 years to show.

      I need to DNA test her. I really think she's a girl because she does have visible light green ring. I don't see it changing color.


  4. I love your beautiful music choice, I'm listening to it now. Thanks.

    1. Hi Marcia! I'm glad you're enjoying it.

  5. I remember liking the book but not the protagonist. Does that make sense? BTW, poor Highsmith had a not so stable life. Her life reminds of the chicken-or-egg paradox (i.e., which came first?). Was she so troubled because she was a writer, or was she a writer because she was so troubled. Hmmm.

    1. That is a very good question R.T. Personally I think writing is like the mouth: It is the "overflow of the heart". So I think her writing reflected what was inside of her. She did have a troubled life.


I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.