Patricia Highsmith’s Not so Mystery Novel, “The Talented Mr. Ripley”

Book cover of novel

Patricia Highsmith, the well respected author has created the masterpiece that is, “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” The novel is controversially categorized as a mystery and hits the mark with its lack of reliable narration and convoluted plot filled with missing pieces and “Oh no, what is to happen next to our characters” attitude. The novel, much like the rest of Highsmith’s work, is a psychological thriller that never misses a beat and keeps you reading all the way through.

Patricia Highsmith in 1962

For avid readers of hard boiled detective, Raymond Chandler esque, novels this may not be the one you are seeking. However, this novel questions sanity and mental disorders in a mystery styled writing that is hard to put down due to its constant suspense, story building, and its slow moving character development into the mind of our protagonist, Mr. Tom Ripley. The story is written in a limited third person narration style, smart of Highsmith, as she does not want to give us too much information fast. This is along with blocking the rest of the characters thoughts from the reader so we can only see what Tom tells us.

The novel is a perfect fit for both mystery and thriller, as the suspense is based on mental stability rather than the who did it style novel, where the reader follows detectives solving a case. Highsmith, as we know, preferred the company of women and that same questioning of sexuality readers are used to from her is ever apparent in this novel. The world Highsmith creates feels right in her genre. The themes and tropes of mystery novels may not be immediately apparent leaving the reader to wonder, “What is the mystery?” Reassuringly there is one.

The story follows, Mr. Tom Ripley, a questionable young man whose mental stability is that of an egotistical child. Tom is covered with jealous thoughts and narcissistic attitude. He feels as though the world owes him something and is looking for any chance he can get to correct a terrible childhood. The temperament of the novel, especially in Tom, is manipulative and leaves the reader to discover why for themselves. Tom is put on an adventure by a friends father to locate his son, Dickie Greenleaf. Dickie has moved away and is not wanting to move home. Tom most find out the reasoning and what is happening with Dickie. As previously stated the mystery is not immediately apparent, but while the novel unfolds it becomes more shrouded in it along with the questioning of what is happening, and what will happen next.

The novel is filled with uncomfortable and dark themes, and surprisingly relevant social issues that are common today, despite the book being written in 1955. It raises more questions every page and answers those slowly until the very end. The end is a bit dull, and gives off an, “It was all to easy” feeling which is the books only downfall. There may be some small details that feel flat or dull that can be nit picked, but overall this is a novel worth reading.

The film adaptation cover

The book was adapted into a movie in 1999, with generally good reviews (7.4 on imdb and 83% on rotten tomatoes). The movie is worth a watch. As always though the book is better. The movie trailer is posted below for those of you who have not seen the movie yet, but read the novel. Massive spoilers are in the trailer so advert from watching if you have not read the novel. It is strongly advised to read it first, or only, to truly get in the mind of Tom Ripley and Patricia Highsmith, so you may see the mystery/ psychological thriller that is “The Talented Mr. Ripley.”

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