One of the great crime novels of the 20th century, Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley
is a blend of the narrative subtlety of Henry James and the self-reflexive irony of Vladimir Nabokov. Like the best modernist fiction, Ripley
works on two levels. First, it is the story of a young man, Tom Ripley, whose nihilistic tendencies lead him on a deadly passage across Europe. On another level, the novel is a commentary on fictionmaking and techniques of narrative persuasion. Like Humbert Humbert, Tom Ripley seduces readers into empathizing with him even as his actions defy all moral standards.
The novel begins with a play on James's The Ambassadors. Tom Ripley is chosen by the wealthy Herbert Greenleaf to retrieve Greenleaf's son, Dickie, from his overlong sojourn in Italy. Dickie, it seems, is held captive both by the Mediterranean climate and the attractions of his female companion, but Mr. Greenleaf needs him back in New York to help with the family business. With an allowance and a new purpose, Tom leaves behind his dismal city apartment to begin his career as a return escort. But Tom, too, is captivated by Italy. He is also taken with the life and looks of Dickie Greenleaf. He insinuates himself into Dickie's world and soon finds that his passion for a lifestyle of wealth and sophistication transcends moral compunction. Tom will become Dickie Greenleaf--at all costs.
Unlike many modernist experiments, The Talented Mr. Ripley is eminently readable and is driven by a gripping chase narrative that chronicles each of Tom's calculated maneuvers of self-preservation. Highsmith was in peak form with this novel, and her ability to enter the mind of a sociopath and view the world through his disturbingly amoral eyes is a model that has spawned such latter-day serial killers as Hannibal Lecter. --Patrick O'Kelley
--This text refers to an alternate
"The brilliance of Highsmith's conception of Tom Ripley was her ability to keep the heroic and demonic American dreamer in balance in the same protagonist-thus keeping us on his side well after his behavior becomes far more sociopathic than that of a con man like Gatsby." -- Frank Rich "[Highsmith] has created a world of her own-a world claustrophobic and irrational which we enter each time with a sense of personal danger." -- Graham Greene "Mesmerizing... a Ripley novel is not to be safely recommended to the weak-minded or impressionable." "The most sinister and strangely alluring quintet the crime-fiction genre has ever produced." -- Mark Harris "Highsmith's subversive touch is in making the reader complicit with Ripley's cold logic." "[Highsmith] forces us to re-evaluate the lines between reason and madness, normal and abnormal, while goading us into sharing her treacherous hero's point of view." -- Michiko Kakutani "[Tom Ripley] is as appalling a protagonist as any mystery writer has ever created." "Savage in the way of Rabelais or Swift." -- Joyce Carol Oates "For eliciting the menace that lurks in familiar surroundings, there's no one like Patricia Highsmith." "Murder, in Patricia Highsmith's hands, is made to occur almost as casually as the bumping of a fender or a bout of food poisoning. This downplaying of the dramatic... has been much praised, as has the ordinariness of the details with which she depicts the daily lives and mental processes of her psychopaths. Both undoubtedly contribute to the domestication of crime in her fiction, thereby implicating the reader further in the sordid fantasy that is being worked out." -- Robert Towers