The Talented Mr. Ripley – First Page

Tom glanced behind him and saw the man coming out of the Green Cage, heading his way.

Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley‘s opening has shades of the first page of another book I’ve read for this blog, William Gibson’s Neuromancer. Both books open with a hard-boiled style, dark corners, shady bars, mysterious characters. (See Neuromancer’s opening review here.) The big difference content-wise, of course, is that Neuromancer is science fiction and the gritty environs of the antihero Case are cybernetically enhanced.  The Talented Mr. Ripley is grounded very much in the real world of the 1950s. What do you think of the writing? My take? It is a bit unpolished, a little pulpy to be considered really good prose. Gibson’s style is heavily influenced by the cut-up writing of William S. Burroughs, blips and whispers of content dropping in all the time. Highsmith reads (as much as you can diagnose someone from one page) like Agatha Christie casually dating Ernest Hemingway.

Kudos to Highsmith for diving right into the action. Who is this man following Tom? Why does Tom think he’ll be arrested – and for what? But it is all surface tension at the start. I feel like I’m being told Tom is anxious, but I don’t feel it. Considering the book I just finished, John Updike’s prolix The Witches of Eastwick, this is a welcome break from Vocab R’ Us. Highsmith looks to be of the school that cries, “Just tells the damn story already!” Here’s the first few paragraphs. What do you think?

One Response to “The Talented Mr. Ripley – First Page”
  1. katey says:

    I wonder what you’ll think if the entire story is based upon surface tension. I believe the brilliance of the book is that the surface tension becomes so clear, that readers, with all their humanity in place, begin to be affected by the surface tension in contrast to the deep depravity of events in the book. One should feel sick or outraged by the increasing expanse dividing the surface tension and the rotten, rotten core.

    Love the post, by the way. “Agatha Christie casually dating Earnest Hemingway”: hilarious.

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