Perhaps it is a testament to how riveted I was to the story that I hardly made any notes or highlights in The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith. The writing is stellar and well-paced and the horror that is Tom Ripley is only gradually and ever so casually revealed. Truly marvelous.
In case you don’t know the story, Tom Ripley, shy, socially awkward, a bit of a loner, walks into a bar one evening and thinks he is about to be arrested for some IRS fraud he is committing. But instead he ends up talking, not to the police, but to the father of Dickie Greenleaf, a wealthy shipping magnate. Tom knows Dickie only slightly but manages to convince Mr. Greenleaf he knows him well enough to go to Italy and persuade Dickie to come back home to New York all on Mr. Greenleaf’s dime.
Once in Mongibello, Tom insinuates himself into Dickie’s life, moves in with him, takes trips with him, begins to dress like him. Dickie’s girlfriend, Marge, is not pleased with this development and warns Dickie that there is something not right about Tom. When Dickie and Tom take a trip to San Remo and they are out jetting around the bay in a small boat, Dickie tells Tom that this is their last trip together, that when they get back Tom has to leave, that he and Marge don’t want him around any longer, Tom loses it and kills Dickie.
Tom looks enough like Dickie that he can get away with the impersonation. And he is very good at it. Thus begins an ever growing spiral of lies and manipulations, of living as two people. Tom concocts story after story for Marge, the police, and eventually Mr. Greenleaf and the private detective he brings from America. Tom teeters on the brink of failure a number of times but manages not only to get away with murder, but also to be legally awarded Dickie’s trust fund.
In becoming Dickie Greenleaf, Tom sees an escape from his past, a escape from himself, and the opportunity to be the person he always wanted to be. Tom’s desire to be Dickie is creepy as heck. Dickie finds Tom amusing and a little weird but he is not one to analyze. Marge, however, quickly becomes suspicious of Tom, though in the end he manages to win her over. It’s good stuff!
I also watched the 1999 movie version starring Matt Damon as Tom Ripley. Gwyneth Paltrow plays Marge and Jude Law is Dickie Greenleaf. It is very well done, though in some ways significantly different than the book. Marge is not so very suspicious of Tom in the movie, but Dickie’s friend Freddie Miles, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, is. In the book Freddie is talked about more than seen.
In the book Marge suggests to Dickie that Tom is gay. Dickie mentions this to Tom and Tom quickly disputes it. There is no sexual tension between Dickie and Tom, no looks or touches or anything that would indicate Tom really is gay. The tension between the two men is not sexual at all but arises from Tom’s desire not to be with Dickie but to be Dickie. In the movie the gay angle is totally played up and emphasised to the point where it seems like Tom kills Dickie in a lover’s quarrel.
The movie has two characters the book does not, Meredith, a rich heiress, and Peter, a friend of Dickie’s. Peter is mentioned in passing in the book but nothing more. Perhaps these two characters are in one of the other Ripley books? Oh, another difference between the book and movie, Tom is a piano tuner and pianst in the movie and Dickie plays sax and loves jazz. In the book Tom is a bit of a math whiz and Dickie is a very bad painter. I am not entirely certain why these two details were changed. Also in the book, Dickie does not get an Italian woman pregnant. In fact, Dickie doesn’t have sex with anyone until well into the book and that is with Marge.
The movie still works though. Bookman has not read the book and liked the movie. I don’t usually read the book and see a movie adaptation so closely together, but it was kind of fun having the details of the book so fresh for comparison.
Here’s one RIP book down. I am about a quarter of the way through the next one already: The Sundial by Shirley Jackson. And oh, it’s good!