Title: The Talented Mr. Ripley
Author: Patricia Highsmith
Review Summary: Slightly creepy but intriguing story about a supposedly likable murder, but I found him an unsympathetic main character which made it hard for me to really care where the plot went.
The Talented Mr. Ripley is not a book I would have picked up on my own for fear it would be too dark. However, I’ve been enjoying doing group reads a lot and this was the next book for the Constant Reader Group on Goodreads. The book tells the story of Ripley, a man sent to Europe to talk an acquaintance into returning to the United States. Instead, he begins desperately wishing he has his acquaintance’s life and even murder won’t prevent our amoral protagonist from achieving his goals. I’m sure you can see why I was worried about it being too dark!
Instead, I found it a very light read in two ways. First, it was very easy to get through; in fact, I read the whole thing today! Second and more surprisingly, the plot didn’t feel particularly dark to me. This isn’t because the content wasn’t dark, but because it didn’t really make me feel anything. The protagonist was occasionally weirdly honorable, according to his own twisted code of honor, but I never found him likable. So while I was vaguely interested in what happened to him and how everything was going to turn out, I didn’t really care one way or the other. If things worked out well for him, ok. If they didn’t, also ok. This lack of engagement and interest in the main character’s fate did a lot to dull the impact of his more shocking actions. I also felt like Ripley was panicked and nervous at all the wrong times. When he was worried, I thought he was being silly. And when I might have been worried, he wasn’t so I wasn’t.
I should add the caveat that this book is known for making Ripley likable, so I’m not in the majority opinion on this and fans of classic crime fiction should probably consider giving it a go. The main redeeming feature I found was the author’s writing style. As soon as I started reading, I knew this was an old book. It actually wasn’t as old as I expected, published in 1955, but it had a formal feel I recognized immediately from Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth – a feel which I think I like. As with The House of Mirth, I was pleasantly surprised by how expressive such formal language can be. One passage in particular stood out to me, where Ripley describes the feeling as though he alone in a crowded city was real and everything else might disappear when he left. I knew exactly what he meant! And I’m sure a lot of us who have been in a big city have had a similar feeling at least once. Overall, this was a well-written and intriguing book which I would recommend much more highly had I become more invested in the main character.