In The Talented Mr Ripley, Patricia Highsmith introduces her sociopathic anti-hero Tom Ripley, who cons his way through people’s lives seemingly without remorse. Highsmith wrote five novels about Ripley (known as the ‘Ripliad’), but The Talented Mr Ripley remains the most famous, partly due to the excellent film adaption directed by Anthony Minghella.
The novel tells the story of a con man and forger called Tom Ripley who is employed by a rich industrialist to travel to Italy and persuade his son, Dickie Greenleaf, to return to America. Ripley worms his way into the lives of Dickie and his fiancée Marge, but Dickie becomes more than a mark to Ripley. Ripley’s obsession with Dickie and his lifestyle quickly turns to murder.
The Talented Mr Ripley manages to be at the same time a taut psychological thriller and a tense, meditative social drama in the beautiful environs of the Mediterranean. Highsmith has a real talent for description and you can almost feel the warm sun and the sea spray, which somehow makes it all the more painful when Dickie Greenleaf’s amusement with Ripley turns to ridicule.
Ripley is a horrible person, but his shy desire to be as charming as Dickie is something that many readers will identify with and understand. One of the defining aspects of Highsmith’s Ripley novels is that Ripley often manages to evade true justice for his crimes. In the hands of any other writer, this would be unsatisfying, but Highsmith manages to make us root for Ripley, and yet shows us how unromantic his mental state really is.
Give The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith a try if you want a dark, complex thriller with characters that will stay with you for a long time. (BOOK ZONE 823.91)
If you liked The Talented Mr Ripley…
Watch Anthony Minghella’s famous film adaptation of the same name. It strays from the book in some ways, but is beautifully filmed and has some surprising moments. If you ever had doubts about Matt Damon’s acting ability, his performance as Ripley will change your mind. (NORFOLK HOUSE LIBRARY 823.91)
Try a true classic of the psychological thriller genre with Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece. Not to spoiler anyone, but there is a character who resembles Ripley in some ways in Psycho. (DVD LOBBY 791.43)
While very different from The Talented Mr Ripley, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca is a similarly chilling psychological thriller with a charming but enigmatic and dangerous male character (NORFOLK HOUSE 823.91) . For another book about an amoral and charismatic figure, try The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, in which one of the greatest mysteries of the book is whether Gatsby is truly all he seems to be (BOOK ZONE 823.91).