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 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.
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