The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
First published 1955 by Coward-McCann
Like a hero in a latter-day Henry James novel, Tom Ripley travels to Italy with a commission to coax a prodigal young American back to his wealthy father. But Ripley finds himself very fond of Dickie Greenleaf. He wants to be like him-exactly like him. Turning the mystery form inside out, Highsmith shows the terrifying abilities afforded to a man unhindered by the concept of evil.
I watched the film of The Talented Mr Ripley many years ago, but couldn’t really remember too much about it when I came to pick up this book from the library. Patricia Highsmith was a prolific author before her death in 1995, but this is the first novel of hers that I have read.
Tom Ripley is summoned by the father of an acquaintance to travel to Italy to bring back his son. Ripley is surprised to be asked, as he is not that familiar with Dickie Greenleaf, but he is happy to accept the free trip to Europe. Despite being rebuffed at first, Tom and Dickie strike up a close friendship – but Tom’s motives are not always as they seem…
Told in the third person, the novel gives us a fascinating insight into the character of Ripley, who is a strange yet compelling character. He is ill at ease with himself, and seems to make a lot of assumptions about people and take a dislike to them – not least Dickie’s close friend Marge. As he quickly builds up his own friendship with Dickie, and quite rapidly moving into his home, Ripley becomes increasingly unhinged, making frequent poor judgements and becoming far too entangled in the life of his host.
I loved this book, which is quite a page-turner, yet at the same time really lets you get under the skin of Ripley. He is a great invention as despite his strangeness and his actions, he is still interesting and even sympathetic at times. The book manages to be both simple yet complex, and I found it a really enjoyable and fascinating read.
There are several other books featuring the Ripley character, which I am now keen to check out. I would recommend this one for fans of psychological thrillers, with the charm of being set in Italy in the 50s thrown in for good measure.