Book Group, Books, Reading Events

Book 149: The Talented Mr. Ripley – Patricia Highsmith

I have to say I enjoyed this a lot more than I expected to. It was an easy read and even though it felt like nothing happened, and I remember the movie being very slow because of this, the book went by quickly. I’m still not sure I fully understand the purpose or premise of the story. I guess it’s somewhere between a murder mystery/thriller, told from the murders point of view, and a comedy of errors.

I have never read anything by Patricia Highsmith, but her writing was easy to follow and her descriptions were, I felt, better than her action sequences. I do know there are three additional novels in the Ripley series, but I don’t think I will go out of my way to read them. This first one was enough for me, but if Highsmith’s writing had had more of an impact and not left me just sort of blase at the end of the book I would definitely want to check them out. Surprisingly I had more of a desire to find out more about Ripley after the end of the film, which is distinctly different unless it’s blending in parts from another book. (Anyone know?!)

I will definitely be interested in book groups take on this novel as the film stayed pretty close to the book but only hyper-exaggerated a few aspects, such as the potential for homosexuality and the seeming instability of Tom Ripley towards the end of the novel.

Literary Others Synthesis
Surprisingly, I found a tie-in to this months Reading event and thus I’m including it as well! I found the below passage about 1/3 of the way through the book and it’s striking for two reasons.

Nobody had ever said it outright to him, not in this way.
“It’s just the way you act,” Dickie said in a growling tone, and went out the door.”
Tom hurried back into his shorts. He had been half concealing himself from Dickie behind the closet door, though he had his underwear on. Just because Dickie liked him, Tom thought. Marge had launched her filthy accusations of him at Dickie. And Dickie hadn’t had the guts to stand up and deny it to her!
He went downstairs and found Dickie fixing himself a drink at the bar shelf on the terrace. “Dickie, I want to get this straight,” Tom began. “I’m not queer either, and I don’t want anybody thinking I am.”

Neither Tom Ripley nor Dickie Greenleaf are explicitly homosexual or heterosexual. There is actually a distinct lack of sex and sexuality in the novel (Highsmith wrote and set the novel in the 1950s). Even the two female characters who make any sort of prolonged appearance come across as distinctly non-sexed.

However, the reasons that it stands out are the ambiguity with which Highsmith dealt with all sexuality, specifically homosexuality, and the almost hopeful way in which Tom says that Dickie didn’t even want to stand up to Marge and just sort of rejects it. Now I won’t read into the book too much, but let’s face it Dickie doesn’t really reject Tom because of Marge. I think Dickie realizes that he and Tom are getting closer and closer and that frightens him and he conveniently blames it on Marge. Tom is a different matter and I really think he does desire Dickie. He seems to have a desire for any person who intrigues him and seems to have fallen for Dickie in this manner, but whether it’s solely a desire to become and posses that person or a sexual desire is unknown.

For once, I appreciated the movie just a bit more than the book. They definitely ramped up the sexual frustration between Tom and Dickie and Dickie and Marge and Tom and Peter (oh yes), and it added a bit more depth and intrigue to the film. I felt the ending of the film was much more powerful because of what happened than the almost happy uplifting ending of the book.

Recommendation: Unless you’re really interested in the author or reading the book I’d recommend steering clear. They book and movie are both really slow moving and I could’ve done without reading them.

Opening Line: “Tom glanced behind him and saw the man coming out of the Green Cage, heading his way.”

Closing Line: “‘To a hotel, please,’ Tom said. ‘Il meglio albergo. Il meglio, il meglio!'” (Last portion translates as, ‘The best hotel. The best, the best!’) (Whited out.)


13 thoughts on “Book 149: The Talented Mr. Ripley – Patricia Highsmith”

  1. Yes! This!! I also thought the movie had a more emotional impact. It is curious how Highsmith eluded to a homosexual desire/relationship in the book. She gave just enough so that the reader could make their own ideas, and my ideas fit right along with yours actually. I’m glad I read this, but I won’t be searching out more of the series either.


    1. I know! It lets you read it there if you want, and if you don’t want to you can just sort of gloss it over. I think it’ll be really interesting in my book group discussion tonight to see who read it as that and who didn’t. I have a feeling quite a few people will say they didn’t like the film because it was too much. Personally I loved the idea of Peter and Tom falling in love, or as much as Tom ever could be in love at the end of the movie and the tragedy that ensues.


  2. Ha, what a coincidence we posted on this on the same day! Also goes to show how differently people appreciate different books. I also thought it was slow-moving, but surprisingly enough it didn’t bother me at all and I really enjoyed it, although I also won’t be going out of my way to read the sequels.
    I love that you addressed the homosexuality/heterosexuality aspect. I’m not sure if Tom does desire Dickie. Honestly, I’m almost sure he’s just incredibly needy ;). But I don’t know, there’s definitely a bit of tension.


    1. Yeah – and that’s one of the things Sarah and I discussed, because Highsmith is so ambiguous about it, you can read what you want into it. I only think he could because there is a line earlier in the novel about him liking men and women, I believe when he’s discussing his relationships to people in NYC.


  3. I remember enjoying the book and film about equally and being surprised that the book didn’t win the fight more convincingly. I keep thinking I am due a re-read but other things come up… 🙂


  4. I didn’t much like this one when I read it, but I feel like I might have been too young. I have always meant to watch the film, which I know lots of people like.


    1. Thanks for stopping by and for the comment. It could definitely have been age related. I watched the film not long after it came out and thought it was boring, but watching it recently I appreciated a lot more about it.


  5. It’s hard not to broach the gay subject in this novel, but it’s worth doing. The fact that Tom never “does” anything homosexual doesn’t matter to me because I don’t think sexuality requires action. That said, I don’t think his preference is all that ambiguous. Let’s even take Dickie out of the equation (Tom’s fixation on his handsomeness could be argued as a desire to be Dickie rather than have him). The descriptions of women are indeed “nonsexed”, as you say, but those of other males? Nooooooot really… which is interesting considering that Highsmith herself preferred women. That Tom’s sexuality is even a point of debate is a credit, I think, to Highsmith’s surprising subtlety in handling it.

    I’ve read one of the sequels (Ripley Under Ground), and you won’t be missing much. Not terrible– it’s just all darkly comedic, foppish murderer schtick from here.


    1. I agree that sexuality doesn’t require action, but non-hetero-sexuality, to me at least, requires some form of a coming out or a personal revelation/acceptance process and without such it’s difficult to apply a specific label to a person, let alone a character.

      I’m definitely interested in Highsmith and what it was about her because apparently her first novel, The Price of Salt, was rejected for being too explicit originally and she actually lived abroad when this was published. But what’s intriguing to me is that authors like Tennessee Williams, Carson McCullers and Truman Capote were living relatively lives and writing LGBT characters and they were not facing insurmountable backlash. I think there were other problems involved.

      And I’ve heard that, a woman in my book group read all of the books and said they weren’t worth the investment unless you were really interested – but it was interesting to note that Tom apparently marries a woman and the only murder he ever regrets was Dickie’s.


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