Posted in Books I have read

The Talented Mr Ripley – Patricia Highsmith


Crime Fiction 4*'s
Crime Fiction


Coincidently this book was published in 1955, the same year as my recent read Hickory Dickory Dock by Agatha Christie but there the comparisons end as this is far more of a portrait of the man than a classic whodunit. Tom Ripley’ talents are:

I can do a number of things – valeting, baby-sitting, accounting – I’ve got an unfortunate talent for figures. No matter how drunk I get, I can always tell when a waiter’s cheating me on a bill. I can forge a signature, fly a helicopter, handle dice, impersonate practically anybody, cook – and do a one-man show in a nightclub in case the regular entertainer’s sick. Shall I go on?

Tom Ripley is unable to hold down a job, uses his friends for favours and yet, simultaneously, appears to resent everything about them especially if they have more than him. Tom Ripley puts his personal happiness above everything else, but doesn’t want to work to reap the rewards.

He remembered that right after that, he had stolen a loaf of bread from a delicatessen counter and had taken it home and devoured it, feeling that the world owed a loaf of bread to him, and more.

One day an opportunity to travel, all expenses included, presents itself and Tom packs up his belongings and sets sail for Italy where he is on the trail of an acquaintance Dickie Greenleaf, at the behest of the latter’s father. At first he works hard to fit into Dickie Greenleaf’s life, accepting his friend Marge and making himself useful until the he is invited to move into Dickie’s house. The two men periodically leave the small Italian village to sight-see, all at Dickie’s expense. It isn’t long before his attentions begin to disturb Dickie. Tom, realising that he is being ousted embarks on an abhorrent plan to keep his high-end lifestyle.

Tom Ripley is a man who hates women, has an aptitude for mimicry and self-delusion made all the more scary because it doesn’t appear to be conscious. The narration of the book by this awful character is chilling as his narcissism shines through as he justifies his actions almost without realising he need to. This is a man who lies, cheats and reinvents himself to attain an ever changing goal, when one plan looks like it will fail, he simply switches to another.

The time-period is faithfully reproduced, the details such as depositing parcels and cashing money just wouldn’t be possible now without identification but in those more trusting times Tom Ripley is able to cover his crimes with ease.

A fascinating portrait of an anti-hero which is chilling in the extreme for its portrayal of a disturbed mind. Even more remarkable for the time it was published with the undercurrent of homosexuality, which the reader deduces although our narrator seems entirely unaware of, but perhaps he is simply unwilling to acknowledge the fact and what Tom Ripley doesn’t wish to acknowledge, simply doesn’t feature.


A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

29 thoughts on “The Talented Mr Ripley – Patricia Highsmith

  1. Cleo, I loved the five books in the series, though probably the second one, Ripley’s Game, is my favourite. It’s been a long time since I read them, mainly the first four books. Maybe it’s time to revisit them.


  2. I remember reading this and feeling so creeped out–but in a good way! This is another book that I think has a very good movie adaptation–if you haven’t seen it you may want to check it out!


    1. No I haven’t seen the film so I will need to add that to the list of things to watch now. This really felt like being inside the mind of someone who thinks in a totally different way to the majority of mankind, as you say very creepy.


  3. Cleo – Tom Ripley really is an absolutely fascinating character, isn’t he? At the same time as he is completely amoral, he also has an oddly human side to him. It is indeed chilling, and the story is well told I think.


    1. His character was more complex than I thought it would be precisely because he wasn’t consistent. His hatred of Marge was astounding as it came from somewhere which could be understood (on a basic level) but was taken to the extreme so quickly, much like many of his actions. It was a fascinating read.


  4. It’s like his mind was as twisted as a maze. Amazing how a human being’s personality could be so twisted. And to think if one hour to the very heart of it, there is some underlying reason for it.


  5. It’s odd, no matter how many people rave about this – and your comments show again that almost everyone thinks these books are great – I just find the idea of the character so unappealing that I can’t bring myself to read them. You came close to persuading me but…no, I think I’ll hold out. I’ve never watched the film either for the same reason.


    1. I am drawn to unpleasant characters, but in Tom Ripley the author hasn’t created an out and out bad guy, the art is that at times I felt something approaching sympathy for him although some of his actions were abhorrent. I’m sure you have plenty of other books to read instead – was it 111? 😉


    1. They are both great in the film. Although the film doesn’t stick to closely to the book, it does manage to recreate that golden atmosphere and aura that hovers about Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law is superb there, his best role I think, except possibly in Wilde). So it makes it easy to understand and almost sympathise with Ripley.


  6. Oh I LOVE the Ripley books. Great review. What i find really disturbing is how Highsmith makes the reader WANT this deeply unpleasant but strangely compelling character to get away with it


    1. I need to read some more from this series, it was not quite what I expected; a deeply unpleasant character. As you say there is something about him that however horrendous his actions is appealing at some level.


  7. I adore all the Ripley books too – in fact, anything written by Patricia Highsmith. Her books are utterly sublime, although they often feature horrid characters. She has a wonderful understanding of the dark side of the human psyche.


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