(by Patricia Highsmith)
Talented Tom Ripley is. He has a facility for languages, art appreciation and deception. Charming Tom Ripley is not. Full marks to Highsmith for avoiding that trap. Tom thinks he is a master of seduction, a truly interesting and ingratiating kind of chameleon. He is even a little annoyed and contemptuous of the ease with which (he believes) he can fit in wherever he choses. Sadly for Tom and so many other psychopaths, he has no insight and cannot see that in fact he baffles and repels any slightly discerning human. Sadly for Tom’s target Dickie Greenleaf and his entourage, they are themselves neither discerning nor moral and are ripe for the harvest.
This is a racy, amusing read, (although the latter sections lag as Tom and his prey zap all over Europe and the reader has trouble working out who is where and when and talking to whom – rather like those old detective plots which depend on who could have caught what train and arrived at Hottington Coves Manor before the afternoon post.) It will particularly please the readers of thrillers who like to track the lost ticket and the forgotten lie. Forget likeable characters, justice or redemption. Don’t look for profound psychological motives. Tom is repelled by sex and, although he initially admires Dickie’s wealth and social ease, he eventually loathes him for his all too human humanness. Tom is a nasty, acquisitive wastrel at the commencement of the tale and an accomplished, tasteful felon by the end.. .or so he thinks.
“[Tom] had polished the suitcase with a special English leather dressing, not that it needed polishing because he took such good care of it, but for its protection. He loved possessions, not masses of them, but a select few that he did not part with. They gave a man self-respect. Not ostentation but quality, and the love that cherished the quality. Possessions reminded him that he existed, and made him enjoy his existence. It was as simple as that. And wasn’t that worth something? He existed. Not many people in world knew how to, even if they had the money. It really didn’t take money, masses of money, it took a certain security.”
Tom walks off stage with the loot just as similarly talented young chaps – Paul in Six Degrees of Separation and George Eastman in A Place in the Sun did not. Tom Ripley gets away with too much – In the real world, he would be in gaol, but we at TVC understand that in the literary world he goes on to do great things.