The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
Narrator: Kevin Kenerly
Published by Audible Studios on January 24, 2012 (first published 1955)
Source: Purchased
Genres: Crime Fiction, Classic
Length: 9 hrs 35 mins
Format: Audiobook
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Since his debut in 1955, Tom Ripley has evolved into the ultimate bad boy sociopath, influencing countless novelists and filmmakers.

In this first novel, we are introduced to suave, handsome Tom Ripley: a young striver, newly arrived in the heady world of Manhattan in the 1950s. A product of a broken home, branded a "sissy" by his dismissive Aunt Dottie, Ripley becomes enamored of the moneyed world of his new friend, Dickie Greenleaf. This fondness turns obsessive when Ripley is sent to Italy to bring back his libertine pal, but he grows enraged by Dickie's ambivalent feelings for Marge, a charming American dilettante.

A dark reworking of Henry James's The Ambassadors, The Talented Mr. Ripley is an unforgettable introduction to this debonair confidence man, whose talent for self-invention and calculated murder is chronicled in four subsequent novels.

I did see the movie version of The Talented Mr. Ripley starring Matt Damon back when, so I had some vague idea of what I was getting into with the novel, but I didn’t honestly remember much.

Tom Ripley is probably a sociopath.

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?

He conveniently leaves murder off his list.

He is definitely an expert manipulator and liar, lacks a conscience, is obsessive, and has difficulty with personal relationships. He is sent to Italy by a wealthy man with the intent of convincing the man’s son to return to America. Needless to say, that does not happen. He spends some time playing the rich American, sight-seeing, eating, hanging out with his new friend, Dickie Greenleaf, and Dickie’s maybe girlfriend Marge, who Tom clearly doesn’t like. He wants Dickie to himself and sees Marge as an obstacle to that.

We see the world through Tom Ripley’s eyes, which is fascinating and disturbing. Everything he does is logical, given his reasoning. He has little choice. Highsmith does such a good job at ratcheting up the tension but is still restrained so that when violence does erupt, we are rocked by it. Given what we know, Tom is not someone we would invite for dinner, someone in whose house we would stay. He’s a bad guy, but I was still on his side, somehow. I wanted him to escape from the police, even though I really wonder how the authorities never managed to put things together. At the same time, I wondered what he would do to reach his goals, to become someone other than the Tom he has been.

The Talented Mr. Ripley is a gripping story. It’s a thriller, yes, but even more, it’s a character study. Tom can act the part he needs to, but we are privy to his thoughts, his delusions, his self-rationalization. He’s suave, agreeable, and utterly amoral, and it’s the uncertainty of what will happen that keeps us reading.

About Patricia Highsmith

Patricia Highsmith

Patricia Highsmith (January 19, 1921 – February 4, 1995) was an American novelist and short story writer best known for her psychological thrillers, including her series of five novels based on the character of Tom Ripley. She wrote 22 novels and numerous short stories throughout her career, and her work has led to more than two dozen film adaptations. Her writing derived influence from existentialist literature, and interrogated notions of identity and popular morality. She was dubbed “the poet of apprehension” by novelist Graham Greene.

Her first novel, Strangers on a Train, has been adapted for stage and screen numerous times, notably by Alfred Hitchcock in 1951. Her 1955 novel The Talented Mr. Ripley has been adopted numerous times for film, theatre, and radio. Writing under the pseudonym “Claire Morgan,” Highsmith published the first lesbian novel with a happy ending, The Price of Salt, republished 38 years later as Carol under her own name and later adapted into a 2015 film.

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