Author: Patricia Highsmith
Publisher: Vintage Books
Published: 1956 (this edition 1999)
After seeing the movie adaptation some time ago, I decided to read Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley. In my opinion, this may just be the best murder mystery ever told in novel form. It tells the story of the chillingly ambitious Tom Ripley, a young man who is asked by a virtual stranger to travel to Italy to convince an old acquaintance to return to his family in New York. Once there, however, the sociopathic character devises a plan to achieve the fresh start he has longed for his whole life. This is a novel that will have readers hooked… for all the wrong reasons! I refuse to believe anyone has managed to read this book without leaning (even just slightly) towards being on Ripley’s side.
Having seen the film version of The Talented Mr Ripley before I read this book, I was interested to see if the character of Ripley would be as unnerving as he is in the movie. I’m pleased to report he was actually even more chilling! Ripley is one of the most intriguing characters I’ve come across in any novel because, despite the horrendous things he does, one is constantly wondering what he’ll do next and can’t help but want him to succeed ! Highsmith writes so well her readers are as convinced by Ripley’s ‘sweet and innocent’ routine as the other characters in her novel. Although this sounds cliché, this really is a book that plays with readers’ minds. I even found myself feeling somewhat sorry for Ripley, as nothing seemed to go his way. Anyone who enjoys a thriller will delight in the way suspense is gradually built around Ripley as his malicious thoughts gradually develop into cold-blooded murder. Throughout this process, Ripley will captivate readers by managing to remaing perfectly calm and collected. The character really makes one question whether we really know what’s going on in others’ heads. I thoroughly enjoyed trying to guess just when Ripley was supposed to have first formulated his plan. The majority of the times this book made me feel tense actually stemmed from me hoping said plan would succeed!
With regards to the other characters in the novel, their only purpose is to set Ripley’s adventures up. Dickie Greenleaf, the man Ripley heads to Italy to meet, is technically a much pleasanter character, yet one can’t help rooting for his infinitely more interesting friend. In fact, the only time Greenleaf is remotely interesting is when friction begins to develop between the two characters. That being said, his friendship with a young American lady named Marge Sherwood manages to perfectly set the scene for his idyllic life in Italy and helps explain why he doesn’t wish to return home. My only real issue with the characters in this book is that I felt Sherwood was a somewhat underdeveloped, stereotypical all-American character.
One thing I had to mention when reviewing this book was how much I loved the setting and the way Highsmith described the idealistic European lifestyle so many of us envy. One of the many reasons Europe is the perfect setting for a thriller is that readers will instantly sense that such a peaceful lifestyle can’t be maintained- a prediction that turns out to be true. My only issue with the setting was that it made me want to return to Italy. Highsmith managed to make last summer’s visit to the stunning Amalfi coast come flooding back to me with her beautiful description.
With regards to the plot of this book, my only issue was that I felt the second half was a little slower than the eventful first half, although this was most probably inevitable given the amount of action within the first 100 pages of the novel. The major appeal of this novel is that we can all identify with the idea of wanting to become someone else or wanting to find a ‘quick-fix’ for our problems. The Talented Mr Ripley is a novel readers will become lost in and read extremely quickly and, despite the subject matter, will most probably enjoy. Even if readers are uncomfortable with this novel’s subject matter, they are sure to be enthralled by the way Ripley’s lies spiral out of control as well as his scarily methodical plan.
Rating: ****.5 (4.5/5)