Friday, 3 November 2017

Book Review: The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

Since his debut in 1955, Tom Ripley has evolved into the ultimate bad boy sociopath, influencing countless novelists and filmmakers. In this first novel, we are introduced to suave, handsome Tom Ripley: a young striver, newly arrived in the heady world of Manhattan in the 1950s. A product of a broken home, branded a "sissy" by his dismissive Aunt Dottie, Ripley becomes enamored of the moneyed world of his new friend, Dickie Greenleaf. This fondness turns obsessive when Ripley is sent to Italy to bring back his libertine pal but grows enraged by Dickie's ambivalent feelings for Marge, a charming American dilettante. A dark reworking of Henry James's The Ambassadors, The Talented Mr. Ripley—is up to his tricks in a 90s film and also Rene Clement's 60s film, "Purple Noon."

My Review:
Tom Ripley is recruited by a rich man to go and find his 'runaway' son Dickie, and bring him back from Italy. Being a former school colleague of Dickie, the prospect of a free trip to Europe appeals to Tom, even though Dickie will probably not remember him. When he arrives he is very taken with the rich playboy lifestyle that Dickie has there and Tom can see why he won't want to go home. Now Tom's task is to find a way into that social circle and find a weakness that he can use to get the job done.

Tom, however, soon finds that instead of taking Dickie away from this fantasy life he is living, he himself wants to become part of it. Interest in being Dickie's friend soon turns into a less healthy obsession with having Dickie's life for himself. Tom soon comes to think that he is more deserving of this kind of life than the somewhat ungrateful Dickie...but to become Dickie, Tom would need to actually dispose of Dickie. Is he actually ready to take that drastic step and could he somehow get away with it?

I don't read this kind of genre at all, but having seen most of the film I decided to give the book a try when it was given to me. Despite it not being my kind of read, I thought that it was really well written and was an interesting story. It is a story of obsession and greed, the way I see it and those emotions are something that most of us can at least understand, if not relate to. It is very easy to understand why Tom is jealous of what Dickie has. Those of us without money can dream of the kind of life that these people have, and be envious of it. It is easy to put yourself in Tom's shoes at that point.

It is when the obsession kicks in that the book becomes darker. There is a great debate over whether Tom is merely obsessed with Dickie's lifestyle or whether he is actually attracted to Dickie himself. To be honest, it has been a long time since I read the book so I can't actually remember how it was written or how subtle or otherwise these suggestions were. I guess each reader will make their own decision about Tom's sexuality...if it was an obsession that just looked like sexual interest or if he was actually gay. In the end I don't suppose it matters as Tom decides that he has to get rid of Dickie.

Is it wrong to root for Tom in this book? On the murdering sociopath part, yes! But I just didn't like Dickie and his friends so I never felt much empathy for any of them. I really disliked Marge and Freddie in particular. Perhaps it is simply because we get the story from Tom's point of view that it is easier to be on his side at times.

It is not an all action book by any means but the inter relations between the characters is intriguing. I liked being inside Tom's head as he plotted out each move, before being with him as he did some bad things. That might make me somewhat twisted! It did interest me enough to get the other books in the series to take a look at, and I've already watched and enjoyed Ripley's Game. It will be 'fun' to see what Ripley does next...

Read several years ago!
3 stars.


  1. I was surprised when I saw the other review for this series! Because I hadn't seen this genre at all on your blog [or at least that I can remember] I know you like to read action packed books! Glad you found it intriguing and enjoyed it some :)

    1. I'm surprised too! I never read this genre but I did like the film and thought I'd give it a go. You won't see many like this though!