The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

Aimless Tom Ripley has been dispatched to Italy to bring feckless playboy Dickie Greenleaf home, but when Dickie rejects Tom’s friendship, Tom chooses a darker course.

I have read and enjoyed several books by Highsmith, but stayed away from the Ripley books because in the crime and mystery genres, I tend not to like the recurring character, like Ruth Rendell’s Inspector Wexford, to give another example from an author I admire, and when I heard about Ripley, I assumed the same. I learned I was wrong by seeing Anthony Minghella’s excellent film version of The Talented Mr. Ripley, and then I worried that the book would surpass the movie or vice versa and I just didn’t want to have to put myself in the position of having to choose between them.

Well, no fear of that. Minghella took a slew of liberties in his adaptation. He added characters, changed their function in the story, ignored subplots and made up subplots of his own. Matt Damon’s Ripley isn’t the same Ripley that’s on the page. I’m usually a purist when it comes to adapting novels for the screen: why do it if your intent is to put your own stamp on it? But Minghella took Ripley so far afield that it becomes an interpretation of Ripley, interesting in its own right but separate from the book.

Getting to the book itself. I enjoyed this down and dirty character study of a psychopath. Highsmith makes Ripley’s pain at Dickie’s rejection palpable through skillful use of stream-of-consciousness. Dickie is as much a psychopath as Ripley, in his callous disregard of anyone’s feelings but his own. The Talented Mr. Ripley isn’t as meaty as the other Highsmiths I’ve read (if the internet lives that long I’ll reach the H’s on my bookshelf and can tell you what I thought of them), but I did tear through it and look forward to reading more about Tom.

The Talented Mr. Ripley

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