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review 2017-08-20 12:44
The Talented Mr Ripley
The Talented Mr. Ripley - Patricia Highsmith

He loved possessions, not masses of them, but a select few that he did not part with. They gave a man self-respect. Not ostentation but quality, and the love that cherished the quality. Possessions reminded him that he existed, and made him enjoy his existence. It was as simple as that. And wasn't that worth something? He existed. Not many people in the world knew how to, even if they had the money. It really didn't take money, masses of money, it took a certain security.

The Talented Mr Ripley was my first introduction to the talents of Patricia Highsmith. That was way back in the 1990s, probably around the time that the Damon/Paltrow/Law film version of the book was released. Since then, I have read a few other books by Highsmith and about her, too. I am still in awe of her writing with every new book I pick up, but The Talented Mr Ripley remains special to me. 


Tom Ripley is a deeply disturbed character, who is described first in the book as a sort of failure at life. He's barely able to support himself, he's sponging off friends, he has no motivation to anything, and yet he sees himself as superior to his fellow man and enjoys manipulating people. Yet, he is also very afraid of being found out.


Not just being found out of various crimes and misdemeanors, but also of being found out to be a failure, a nothing, nobody. Because Tom's greatest issue is that he has no personality whatsoever. That makes him as forgettable as it makes him desperate to be recognised.

He was thinking that he had to identify himself, immediately. It would look worse for him, whatever happened, the longer he put it off. When he left the cathedral he inquired of a policeman where the nearest police station was. He asked it sadly. He felt sad. He was not afraid, but he felt that identifying himself as Thomas Phelps Ripley was going to be one of the saddest things he had ever done in his life.

Now I am not going to try and analyse Tom. I couldn't. It is just that Tom's self-hatred and feelings of unacknowledged superiority set him up to take on any means of escape from his own life that present themselves, and this is where the gripping plot to this book starts off. 


We get to follow Tom on a mission, which he is bound to fail because the whole idea is ludicrous from the start. It does give Tom a new scene, tho, in which he can try and become something, become someone.


I will not give much of the plot away but suffice it to say, there is murder involved, there is a police hunt across Italy, and there are various close encounters between Tom and other characters where I was just on the edge of my seat to find out how it would resolve. Would he get away? I must have spent half my time reading about Tom hoping he would be found out, and the other half hoping that he wouldn't - simply because it was such a thrill to read about this despicable, delusional, pathetic character that is Tom Ripley. 


Re-reading the book after so many years, I knew where the story was going, but was still thrilled by the details that I had forgotten since reading this in the 1990s - details which the film got wrong, by the way. 


Re-reading this also brought out many details about Highsmith's writing that I am not sure I appreciated on the first read: Highsmith toyed with Tom. She absolutely works him like a puppet in this story, and you can see that she derives a twisted kind of fun from doing this.



At times when Tom wallows in self-pity, Highsmith makes us laugh at him.

"His parents had drowned in Boston Harbour, and Tom had always thought that probably had something to do with it, because as long as  he could remember he had been afraid of water, and he had never learned how to swim. It gave Tom a sick, empty feeling at the pit of his stomach to think that in less than a week he would have water below him, miles deep, and that undoubtedly he would have to look at it most of the time, because people on ocean liners spent most of their time on deck. And it was particularly un-chic to be seasick, he felt. He had never been seasick, but he came very near it several times in those last days, simply thinking about the voyage to Cherbourg."

At times when Tom's monstrosity seems to take over, Highsmith shows us his ineptitude.

"Marge had turned her Martini over. She daubed at the crocheted tablecloth awkwardly with her napkin.

Tom came running back from the kitchen with a wet cloth. "Perfectly alright," he said, watching the wood of the table turn white in spite of his wiping. It wasn't the tablecloth he cared about, it was the beautiful table.

"I'm so sorry," Marge went on protesting.

Tom hated her. He suddenly remembered her bra hanging over the windowsill in Mongibello. Her underwear would be draped over his chairs tonight, if he invited her to stay here. The idea repelled him. He deliberately hurled a smile across the table at her.

"I hope you'll honour me by accepting a bed for tonight. Not mine," he added, laughing, "but I've got two rooms upstairs and you're welcome to one of them."

"Thanks a lot. All right, I will." She beamed at him."


So, what we get in The Talented Mr Ripley is the story told from two points of view - the delusions of Tom Ripley, and the observations of Highsmith who is orchestrating Tom's story. 

Highsmith had a wicked sense humor, and I do mean "wicked" in the sense of dry, dark and very twisted. This comes to full show in Ripley and, on this second read, I could not help but wonder what other nuances of Highsmith's personality may have made their way into the book, too. 


I am assuming that Tom's closetedness may also have been drawn from the author's own experiences, and that the overwhelming amount of alcohol that is described in the book may, sadly, have been another.


As Andrew Wilson quotes from Highsmith's diaries in 1944 (11 years before Ripley), in Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith

Alcohol, for Highsmith, was another way of accessing her subconscious mind and throughout her notebooks and diaries she repeatedly refers to drink as essential for the true artist, as it ‘lets him see the truth, the simplicity, and the primitive emotions once more’.


I have no doubt that I will refer back to Ripley - whether as a result of reading more of Highsmith's work or whether as a comparison to other thrillers I may come across. In the weirdest of ways, The Talented Mr Ripley has been such a fun book.






Reading update posts for this are:


Update 1 - Page 1.

Update 2 - Page 47.

Update 3 - Page 133.

Update 4 - Page 184.

Update 5 - Page 202.

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text 2017-08-20 00:34
Ripley Read - Update: I've read 202 out of 249 pages.
The Talented Mr. Ripley - Patricia Highsmith

Well, we know Tom is a hot mess, but does he have issues with untidiness in general or just with these specific items?


"He was too sleepy to form specific questions and answers, and too tense to get to sleep. He wanted to make coffee and wake Marge up, so he would have someone to talk to, but he couldn't face going into that room and seeing the underwear and garter belts strewn all over the place, he absolutely couldn't."


Yeah, because ladies underwear is so much more creepy than going into someone's room while they are asleep.

(spoiler show)


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text 2017-08-19 23:36
Ripley Read- Update: I've read 184 out of 249 pages.
The Talented Mr. Ripley - Patricia Highsmith

And now we have Tom turning his talents to interior decorating:


"The inside of the house was Tom's ideal of what a civilized bachelor's home should look like, in Venice, at least: a checkerboard black-and-white marble floor downstairs extending from the formal foyer into each room, pink-and-white marble floor upstairs, furniture that did not resemble furniture at all but an embodiment of cinquecento music played on hautboys, recorders, and violas da gamba."


...and of course there is more talk of drink. LoL. Who'd have guessed it?

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text 2017-08-19 20:45
Ripley Read - Update: I've read 133 out of 249 pages.
The Talented Mr. Ripley - Patricia Highsmith

Tom felt quite confident of his safety, but physically he felt awful. He had a hangover, the terrible, jumpy kind that made him stop halfway in everything he began doing, even stop halfway in brushing his teeth to go and see if his train really left at ten-thirty or at ten-forty-five. It left at ten-thirty.

He's really becoming a dab hand at this

murder malarkey

(spoiler show)

if all he suffers from is the hangover from the various cocktails of the night before.

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text 2017-08-18 21:30
Ripley Read - Update: I've read 47 out of 249 pages.
The Talented Mr. Ripley - Patricia Highsmith

I finished the first eight chapters on the train, and am enjoying meeting the characters all over again. But, I've been spoiled by the film because I actually see the actors in the roles. This is not a bad thing at all, by the way. The cast of the film seemed to really "get" the characters so far. What the film does not tell us is Tom's backstory. In the book this tries to make so much more sense (except,

no, no it does not make sense for what he is doing and is no justification, but it's Highsmith - we are supposed to understand and be sympathetic to Tom

(spoiler show)




There is only one character I would like to make special mention of: Matt Damon's Tom Ripley's swimming trunks.


If you read Chapter 7 you will see my concern.



In the book, Highsmith describes them as "a black-and-yellow thing no bigger than a G-string"

In the film we get: 




Who made the call to change the explicitly-mentioned unmentionables?


I bet Highsmith was having fun when she wrote the scene. It certainly made me laugh.


While the film version of Tom's bathing garment is pretty obnoxious, too, Tom walking about town in a black-and-yellow G-string thingy complented by his suit shoes just cracked me up!

(spoiler show)


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