RIPPING GOOD YARN
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 10 July 2012
To me, this is writing at its best. Highsmith's protagonist is Tom Ripley. He is a talented young man with ambition and very little else. He works, for the time being, in a United States of America Tax department where he fiddles extra money from the tax payers to line his own pockets, and he moves from the home of one friend after another until he outstays his welcome. Then, one day, good luck walks through the door of a bar in the form of Mr Herbert Greenleaf, a wealthy businessman whose son, Richard (Dickie) is living the good life in Mongibello, Italy. Herbert Greenleaf has followed Tom, recognising him as an acquaintance, even friend, of his son who he wants to return from America and join him in his boat-building company. Tom is easily persuaded, by the offer of excellent expenses, to go to Mongibello to try and persuade Richard to return. When Tom arrives in Italy, Richard Greenleaf barely recognises him but when Tom makes light of the fact that he is supposed to persuade Richard to return home, Richard finds it all great fun and takes Tom under his wing much to the annoyance of Richard's friend, Marge. Richard Greenleaf has everything that Tom could ever want. He is popular, he doesn't need to work, he lives in wonderful Italy, wears wonderful Italian clothes, eats at restaurants, attends parties, and better still, he has lots of money. The only thing that stands in the way of Tom having the life of Richard, is Richard. Tom Ripley, however, is gifted. Not only can he impersonate people, their voices, their mannerisms, he can even adapt his appearance. He is also very, very, gifted at forgery.
First published in 1955 and written in limited third person, Patricia Highsmith allows us into the thoughts, actions, and motivations of Tom Ripley, a totally insidious personality who is at once charming and frighteningly devious. We are privy to his feelings of guilt and repelled by how he justifies his murderous actions, amazed at his daring, and impressed by how skillfully he manipulates and deceives others, including the police, Richard's father, Marge, and anyone else who gets in his way.
What I love about this book is not only the tortuous plot that you really do have to keep up with to fully appreciate Patricia Highsmith's writing skill, (it can't be that difficult as I managed it!) and the skill of Tom Ripley but that there is no strong language, no excessively graphic scenes of violence or sex, none of the cheap thrills that you get in a lot of modern murder/thrillers. The clever plot is simply outstanding. It's no wonder that Alfred Hitchcock chose to make a movie out of Highsmith's first book, Strangers on a Train, in 1951.
This is a list of Highsmith's 'Ripley' books:
The Talented Mr Ripley - 1955
Ripley Under Ground - 1970
Ripley's Game - 1974
The Boy Who Followed Ripley - 1980
Ripley Under Water - 1991
I bought all mine as 'Very Good Condition' used paperbacks. The Talented Mr Ripley came via World of Books, Amazon. It arrived in excellent condition, just as described.
Patricia Highsmith (1921-95) was born in Texas and later lived in New York. The Talented Mr Ripley movie (1999) starring Matt Damon, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow was based on the first in a series of Tom Ripley books. The movie follows the book quite closely in part but the book's plot is far too complex for all the detail to be included in a 139 minute movie. Ripley's Game (2002), another excellent movie, was based on the third book of the series, and starred John Malkovich.
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