Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Talented Mr. Ripley

Most people will recognize the name from the 1999 film, starring Matt Damon.  However, I am writing about the book the movie was based upon, a psychological thriller published by Patricia Highsmith in 1955.  The Talented Mr. Ripley is the first of five novels written by Highsmith about Ripley's adventures.

Tom Ripley is a con artist of sorts with no career, living in New York City and willing to do anything to spice up his life, even to the point of setting up cons from which he won't even profit, just to relieve his boredom.  Tom is somewhat sophisticated but doesn't have the income to live the lifestyle of the people he socializes with, so he manipulates his acquaintances while he waits for the right thing to come along.

The right thing finally does come along in the appearance of Mr. Greenleaf, a wealthy boat builder whose son, Dickie, is an associate of Ripley.  Dickie has taken his money and monthly stipend and moved to a small coastal Italian village, to paint and live a low-key life, but his father has plans for him to eventually take over the company, which Dickie has no interest in doing.  In desperation, Mr. Greenleaf hires Tom, through a mutual acquaintance, to sail to Italy and try to persuade Dickie to return home.

Tom, desperate to relieve his ennui, gladly takes the offer. Once in Italy, Tom ingratiates himself to Dickie in order to sponge off him.  After a few months of this arrangement, Tom makes an error in judgment regarding Dickie, making Dickie's attitude towards Tom change dramatically.  Sure that Dickie is going to dump him, Tom suddenly decides to kill Dickie while they are on a short boating trip.  Tom scuttles the boat, and realizing how much he resembles Dickie, decides to take on his identity.

What follows is several months of moving across Italy, dodging friends and Dickie's family members so Tom can continue the charade, until one of Dickie's friends finally catches up and is murdered by Tom in order to preserve the hoax. The murder investigation that follows tightens the noose so much that Tom abandons the Dickie masquerade and resumes his Ripley identity.  Eventually, through Tom's machinations, everyone comes to believe that Dickie has perhaps killed his friend and then committed suicide in despair, leaving his estate, through a will Tom forged, completely to Tom.

The book ends with Tom standing on a pier in Greece, paranoid that the police are looking for him everywhere he goes.

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