Monday, October 11, 2010

Book Review: Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955)

For a variety of reasons, I find it difficult to have an authentic response to
The Talented Mr. Ripley. First off, of course, is the book's reputation. It has been anointed many times over as one of the Great Classics of Noir, so you read it expecting a Great Classic. An offshoot of this reputation is the book's presence in popular culture, which makes it almost impossible to read the book without already knowing at least a bit about Tom Ripley and his story. And for me, the crowning complication is Tom's portrayal as self-loathing closeted homosexual. I know how Tom's character reads to me in 2010, but what I would really like to know is how I would have responded to Tom if I had read this book in 1955. But here is what I do know: The first third of the novel is unnecessarily slow; in giving such a leisurely introduction to Tom, Highsmith is denying and not trusting her genre. Furthermore, it makes no sense to dwell on Tom's character because Tom has no character. When we meet Tom, he is an empty shell defined by a few desires and neuroses. Things get interesting only when he begins using this emptiness to his advantage, as good sociopaths do. Then, of course, the book gets much better, and this is when we actually begin learning about Tom. Grade: B+

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