Patricia Highsmith’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley”

You might know Patricia Highsmith, even if you’ve never read one of her many novels. Highsmith’s work has been adapted again and again by filmmakers. From Alfred Hitchcock’s 1951 Strangers on a Train to the 2015 film Carol starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, Highsmith’s work has served as the basis for a number of diverse film adaptations and it is not hard to see why.

Highsmith’s work is worth the read. It is instantly apparent why so many directors are interested in adapting her novels: Highsmith’s writing is intense, suspenseful, and complex. The Talented Mr. Ripley, the first novel in a series of routinely adapted films, is a great introduction to Highsmith and her world of crime, murder, and malice.

The Talented Mr. Ripley, a mystery-crime novel brimming with suspense and action, follows Tom Ripley. A quiet and down on his luck American, Tom Ripley’s life of apartment hopping, check fraud, and drinking is quickly replaced by a European adventure when Mr. Greenleaf, a wealthy business man, hires Tom to travel to Italy and bring his son Dickie home to America.

The little lies and crimes that Tom Ripley commits at the beginning of the novel are nothing compared to what unfolds throughout the book. Crime, evasion, love, deception, and murder are all complexly present in Highsmith’s work. Characters are murdered, on the run from the police, in disguise, committing forgery, and all around lying. Throughout, we are constantly left wondering whether what we are hearing is true, who’s to blame, and ultimately why things happen the way they happen.

Highsmith’s novel is the type of book that the phrase “page-turner” was invented for. There is so much riding on the next line of the next chapter that it will be nearly impossible to stop reading. Still, the book is so much more than just a best-seller beach read. Highsmith is immensely critical of the culture the characters exist in. She seems to ask throughout: how many of the problems that her characters create could have been solved had her characters lived in a different time.

An intense look at gender, sexuality, humanity, crime and punishment, and identity, The Talented Mr. Ripley is the type of book that leaves you simultaneously satisfied and craving more. Luckily for those readers who want to spend more time aching over the fate and future of Tom Ripley, Highsmith wrote four more novels about Ripley, collectively called “The Ripliad.”