New Book! The Talented Mr. Ripley

We’re back from a holiday break with a new book in sight: Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley.

Here are some stats. We start reading on Monday. Get a copy if you want to join in!

1955 novel by American writer Patricia Highsmith. This was Highsmith’s fourth novel and the first in the so-called Ripliad, a five-book series featuring the character Tom Ripley.

Highsmith’s first novel, Strangers on a Train, raised her profile when it was adopted into a film by Alfred Hitchcock. (Raymond Chandler wrote some initial drafts of the screenplay, but considered the book “a silly little story.” He was eventually released from the project and the film went on to be one of the great Hitchcock thrillers.)

Highsmith’s second novel, The Price of Salt, was written under a pseudonym because of its graphic lesbian content, and was controversial for its semi-happy ending, a first in American homosexual literature.

She returned to the thriller in 1954’s The Blunderer and then came her big literary breakthrough: The Talented Mr. Ripley.

A common theme in Highsmith’s work is the ambivalent crashing into the definitive.  Literally, they bump into each other on Strangers on a Train when one morally loose but, in general, pleasant tennis player gets caught up with a obsessive psychopath. These two characters merge in the character of Tom Ripley, who wants the happy and simple things but is not above committing the occasional, unfortunate murder in order to get them. Add to ambiguous morals ambiguous sexuality. Highsmith, herself gay, sees grays in all her characters’ sexuality. If you have ever seen Hitchcock’s  Strangers, you may remember how bad guy Bruno had some sexual issues hanging in a slightly ajar closet.  Ripley is less aggressive, but no less open in his sexual identity. He is the ultimate chameleon, willing to become anything for anyone if it means a thrill and a comfortable life. There are reports that Highsmith’s own habit for falling in love with straight women was an inspiration for some of what takes place in Ripley.

One other thing this book has is a bad rap as “Crime Fiction.” Most will agree it is not a genre piece but a great story that, as Roger Ebert notes, just happens to be about criminals.


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