Mini classic review: The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

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 grows enraged by Dickie’s ambivalent feelings for Marge, a charming American dilettante.

“If you wanted to be cheerful, or melancholic, or wistful , or thoughtful, or courteous, you simply had to act those things with every gesture.”

The Talented Mr. Ripley blew my expectations out of the water. This psychological thriller novel gripped me from beginning to end. I can’t believe how much I was rooting for a two-time murderer (one more and he’s considered a serial killer) to get away with everything and rejoicing each time he does.

Tom Ripley, the protagonist of this book, is a sociopathic, obsessive liar. He cons his way into a life of luxury and ends up murdering, lying and stealing an entire identity in order to keep the new life he has ‘made’ for himself. I thoroughly enjoyed how awkward Tom was as himself and how, as the novel progresses, it becomes more and more unbearable being himself. His identity eventually becomes indistinguishable from Dickie’s and, when he steals Dickie’s life, he continues to impersonate Dickie’s personality even in his personal time.

I’m so fascinated by Tom’s relationship with Dickie. It’s highly queer-coded, but Dickie eventually suspects that Tom himself may be queer and becomes uncomfortable by their close relationship. I think it’s highly probable that Tom is actually queer, potentially bi. There’s many suggestions throughout the novel, with Tom himself saying at one point (in a flashback) that he can’t choose between men and women. His sexuality brings a very interesting dynamic to Tom’s character and his actions, and I don’t think I would have been as invested if there weren’t such obvious homoerotic subtext.

I haven’t seen the 1999 movie this novel is based upon, but I will be making that a priority. I have heard the ending is different, which I’m a little disappointed by. I was blown away by the ending of The Talented Mr. Ripley because all of the tension cultivates in one last scene with Tom … SPOILER … getting away with everything. I thought this was such a great ending, even if a little unrealistic.

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