A real classic of crime literature that I liked very much. Tom Ripley is hired by the father of a distant acquaintance to bring back his son Dickie Greenleaf from a sweet life in Mongibello/Italy back to New York. Once returned, Dickie is expected to face his duties and responsibilities in the parental boat building company. Tom senses a chance to start a new and even paid for life somewhere else and agrees to the offer. He and Dickie become friends, nearly inseparable to the utter dislike of Marge, a girl who had been with Dickie in Mongibello before Tom has arrived. After a time Tom feels that Dickie is trying to get rid of him sooner or later and is furious about his disloyalty. He recognizes the opportunity to become Dickie himself with all the advantages life would present him with if he were. He murders Dickie on a boat trip and from thereon pretends to be him. In the beginning this seems to work fine but gradually unforeseen difficulties occur and the net around Tom gets closer and closer.
Patricia Highsmith manages the entire Dickie-Tom-mix-up so well, I sometimes ended up thinking that both of them were still alive. With Tom Ripley, the author created a nasty piece of character, amoral and with clearly schizophrenic features. Now and again, Tom reminded me of the protagonist in American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. He also reminded me of Frank Abagnale Jr. played by Leonardo Di Caprio in the 2002 Spielberg version of Catch Me If You Can, in reference to his qualities of impersonating another individual.
Although homosexuality is never explicitly attributed to Tom in The Talented Mr Ripley, most of the time he seems more attracted to men than to women. Tom is infatuated with Dickie Greenleaf to a degree that makes him not only hate Marge for being so close to Dickie but also feel the imagined betrayal of his friend worse than it actually was. Patricia Highsmith herself seemed ambivalent in regard to her hero’s sexual preference. Once asked about Tom Ripley’s sexuality, she said: „I don’t think Ripley is gay […]. He appreciates good looks in other men, that’s true. But he’s married in later books. I’m not saying he’s very strong in the sex department. But he makes it in bed with his wife.“ (Peary, Gerald, 1988, Interview: Patricia Highsmith. Sight & Sound 75, 104-105. )
The Talented Mr Ripley was first published in 1955. After that book Patricia Highsmith wrote several sequels which together with the first one are known as „the Ripliad“. They others are named Ripley Under Ground (1970), Ripley’s Game (1974), The Boy Who Followed Ripley (1980) and Ripley Under Water (1991).
I highly recommend The Talented Mr Ripley for anyone who likes a good crime story in the setting of the 1950s American Novel. It is a relaxed and chilled out read regarding its language although it gets more and more exciting towards the end. You don’t stop asking yourself whether Tom is really getting away with all his villainy and deceit. As a kind of closure I am going to watch the 1999 movie with Matt Damon as Tom, Jude Law as Dickie and Gwyneth Paltrow as Marge. For me Matt Damon really works as Tom Ripley because I never can decide whether I like Damon or not. Therefore he genuinely catches the Richard III attitude of a villain who is repulsive and attractive at the same time.