It’s a bit weird to see one of my favourite films featured in a book club post, but did you know that it was based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith, of Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train fame? And a damn good book it is too!
For those unfamiliar, The Talented Mr Ripley is a 1950s-set thriller about a young man who murders, and then assumes the identity of, another man. If, like me, you’ve seen the film before you read the book, you’ll find that Anthony Minghella took a few artistic liberties with the original story. You might also be interested to know that Highsmith wrote four more Ripley stories, creating a series. That’s four more additions to my ‘to read’ list!
The talented chap in question is Tom Ripley, a 25-year-old loner who is going from one scam to the next. After being approached by a wealthy man in a bar, he is offered an expenses-paid trip to Italy to bring home the man’s son (Dickie Greenleaf) in order to help out with the family business.
What actually ensues is an opportunity for Tom to taste the kind of lifestyle he could previously only have dreamed of – sailing by day, enjoying lavish meals, expensive cocktails and posh parties by night, and living it up in a luxury house on the water.
Unfortunately for Tom, Dickie’s lady friend (Marge) doesn’t care for his company, and as his infatuation with Dickie grows, so too does Marge’s distaste – and distrust. Fearing that Dickie has grown tired of his companionship, Tom takes it upon himself to kill him when they’re out on the water; he sinks the body and assume his identity. As a result he spends the coming months looking over his shoulder at every corner and doing whatever it takes to keep his secret.
Highsmith’s story is a fascinating character study of a sociopath, with more subtle references to sexuality than those which Minghella exaggerated in his film.
Although his initial actions are quite impulsive, Tom’s cover-ups are meticulously planned and articulated. He’s an interesting character as he’s clearly highly intelligent, despite his neglected upbringing and lack of formal higher education. You’re left with an odd reassurance that he’ll continue to get away with his crimes, but growing concern for his mental health suggests that he could be his own downfall. It definitely left me wanting to read more from the series.