The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

It’s often a surprise to learn that Patricia Highsmith was the author of several books that have been turned into well-known successful crime thrillers and mysteries on screen, some of them more than once, to the extent that the film has become more famous than the book or writer. Her first novel was Strangers on a Train, which probably rings a bell as one of Hitchcock’s early classic noirs released in 1951. The Talented Mr. Ripley was published in 1955 followed by no less than another four Ripley thrillers written between then and 1991. The best-known movie adaptations of the original are the excellent 1960 French film Plein Soleil starring Alain Delon, and the 1999 version with Matt Damon playing Ripley; apparently there’s also a new TV series coming out. The Two Faces of January was written in 1964 and finally hit the big screen in 2014 with Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac. As well as Deep Water and The Blunderer, among others, both transformed into cinematic versions with different titles and/or languages.

 

‘Americans in Europe’ are a common theme and backdrop for Highsmith’s books as in both Ripley and January; she was originally from Texas and brought up in New York, and lived in Greece, Italy, France and died in Switzerland in 1995. It’s the slow-burning build-up of tension and suspense that draws you into the world of her characters and plots, as well as Highsmith’s simple flair for storytelling, atmospheric settings, character psychology and dialogue. Both of the charming ‘anti-heroes’ in these two books – Thomas Ripley and Rydal Keener in Two Faces – show the kind of complex identity crises and split personalities that pervade Highsmith’s main leads, whose behaviour swings from adventure-seeking, jealous, dishonest, amoral to plain psychotic and murderous. Ripley is mostly set in Italy, where the eponymous lead assumes a rich playboy’s identity after killing him and literally gets away with it. January is mostly set in Greece, where another American abroad intertwines himself into the lives of a conman and his wife travelling (or on the run) with equally fatal consequences. Although there’s much more to both books than that…

Submitted by Richard J.