The talented Mr Ripley is a book which is quite different to all other sorts of books. It is not a real detective book, and it isn’t a romantic or comical book either. There is not a really important part of the book, no significant climax. It is just one single story, in which you follow a man’s thoughts and in which you can see what he does in particular situations.
In order to explain the book, I will summarize the story. Then I will continue with highlighting some important things from the book, like the end, a climax and the main character(s).
Tom Ripley is a poor, though satisfied man. He lives in America, New York and is 24 years old. He ‘earns’ money by claiming he is from an American insurance company, and that the people he approaches still own this company money. Thus far, he has no police looking for him, he thinks. But when he sees that a man is following him all day long, he thinks that the man is a cop. Tom is trying to avoid the man, but he failed. The mans tells him he’s Herbert Greenleaf, the father of Dickie Greenleaf. Tom is relieved. He knows Dickie, it was a good friend of him, some years ago. Herbert explains why he was looking for Tom.
Tom is being asked whether he wants to visit Dickie in Italy, and then ask him to come back to America, because his mother has leukaemia, and will probably die soon. But Tom hadn’t been in contact for years, and is not very pleased with the offer, even though the Greenleafs will give him all the money he needs, and it will be like a holiday for Tom. But he decides to accept the offer, to do his last good deed for the Greenleafs. Some weeks later, he travels by boat to Mongibello, Italy.
Once he is in Mongibello, he is doubtful to speak with Dickie, and his girlfriend Marge. He thinks Dickie will not recognize him. A bit worried he returns to their house the second day. With some trouble, he is asked to dinner with them. A difficult and not very stimulating conversation takes place.
After a few days, which Tom spends in a hotel, he decides to revisit Dickie. He tells him that Dickies father send him, and he tells that his mother is dying. Once Tom has told that, Dickie is closer to Tom now. Their relation gets better, and Dickie asks Tom to live in his house, and not in a fuzzy hotel. Tom is happy with it.
During the next period, they live together. You can read about Tom’s thoughts to restart a new life here in Italy, and become good friends with Dickie, and let his entire past in America behind him. They get to know each other better and better, and they make pleasant trips. Also one boat trip, with Dickies boat. Marge is not with them, and during this boat trip, Dickie is very sulky. Tom is thinking about killing Dickie. After some mind twists he does kill Dickie, in order to take his identity, and live his life. He dumps Dickie, killed by Toms force with an oar. The totally with blood covered boat is sank by Tom.
From now on, Tom is no longer only Tom; he is also Dickie, his second identity. It was easy for him to get rid of Marge, because she didn’t liked Tom. Though, she sends letters to ‘Dickie’ quite often. Tom replies them, in a hotel in Rome, in which he is as Dickie Greenleaf. He enjoys his new life, and he buys an apartment in Rome, and is still in contact with Marge and Dickies parents.
Suddenly, an old friend of Dickie is contacting him; Freddie Miles. He cant refuse him, and says Dickie is gone shopping or something. Because Freddie almost discovers what Tom is up to, Tom must kill Freddie too. With a plan he dumps him outside the town, so it looks like an ordinary drunken guy who committed suicide.
Both murders were not a very smart thing to do, because he now has cops in his neighbourhood. He was questioned very much, but his real identity and the murders were not discovered nor confessed, because he remained Dickie Greenleaf, and it was Tom Ripley who was gone. The police couldn’t explain Tom disappearance at the beginning, but they ended thinking Tom was dead, because the boat with blood was discovered.
Because Marge almost solved the riddle, he couldn’t be Dickie anymore. He decided to become Tom Ripley again, and he travelled to Naples. He had a plan to tell the police why he didn’t know the police was looking for him. He told the police he was touring through the country, and slept in the car. After some questioning, he travelled to Venice, where he enjoyed the city and lived in a hotel (again). Despite he knew it would be too dangerous, he was disappointed that he couldn’t be Dickie anymore. He knew he had to start a new life, and not to take somebody else’s identity. Though, he experienced this an exciting part of his life.
Tom gets worried for one last time; that’s when Dickies father hires a private detective, and when Herbert is in Italy himself. But luckily for Tom Ripley, they don’t discover his temporary double identity he had.
Explaining the book
One important aspect of every book, is the title. A title is supposed to draw your attention. This title is, as I consider it, a good choice. The talented Mr Ripley is a clear and attractive title, short and mysterious.
This title doesn’t tell you a lot about the book. Actually, it is rather vague. What ‘talented’? That is why it is attractive; is makes you curious.
Once you have read the book, it is easy to explain the title; Tom Ripley is very talented, in the way he gets out of every situation. He takes a double identity, in which he fails to keep it very long. But he saves his bum out of every kind of trouble! A real talent.
An other title I consider very nice, is Double identity: we all got two faces, but some got more. Tom is taking a second individual, and for a certain period of time, he really is two persons in one body. The first moment, he is Tom Ripley to the backbone, the second one he is Dickie Greenleaf.
Like every book, the end is quite important. This book ends with the private detective, who does not discover Toms murders. And just before that, he is in town, buying a newspaper with a couple of police agents around him. They did not recognize him, and Tom gently walks back to his ship. I will now tell an alternative end.
From this point, I will tell an alternative end.
He glanced at the police officers. They glanced back. As Tom was looking for other papers or magazines, he heard the cops whispering. Every time Tom looked their way, they quickly looked the other way. Tom didn’t feel very comfortable and he slowly walked towards the boat.
Glad to be gone from the cops, he looked behind. No one. Three blocks further he heard quick footsteps behind him. When Tom looked over his back, he saw the police officers about two hundred yards behind him. He speeded up. He thought it wasn’t smart to run away, or enter the boat. So he went to the busy streets. Every time he took a corner, he began to run, run as far from the officers as possible. About half an hour later, he got rid of them. Exhausted as he was, he went to a small terrace and ordered a beer. He thought about the police officers; how on earth did they figured out what he has done? Or maybe they didn’t know it, but they just wanted to talk about something else.
A gunshot, very close. The window to his right broke to pieces. Tom was scared to death. He stood up, and looked both ways of the street. He saw many people, and on his right side, just a hundred yards away from him, the police officers. They’d pulled their Magnum, and were moving toward him. Tom started running, running as far way from here as possible. Again a gunshot. A loud scream right in front of him. A woman was bleeding, and lay on the ground. There were a dozen people around her, as she was crying. Her arm was soaked with blood, and most people around her gazed at Tom with anxiousness while he passes the group. He ran away, as hard as he could. Tons of things he had done and he could do skipped his mind. A corner, another corner. There were people everywhere, and everybody was talking all kinds of languages. Suddenly the cops were right in front of him, and shot. Shot again. He stumbled a few feet, then he collapsed.
‘We got a serious shot wound! We need two sacks of blood, A positive!’ ‘We have to stabilize his chest, we cant loose him!’ ‘Watch his head! Anne, you get his head!’ ‘His blood pressure is lowering, the blood, quick!’
Tom groaned. There were doctors all around him. His chest hurt, his legs hurt too. A fierce ER light shone at him. Then he got injected, and was loosing consciousness.
Tom woke up, not knowing were he was. There were two cops around him, looking nervously. ‘Are you feeling okay?’ the first cop asked. ‘You are in London, medical centre. You have been in coma for more than three days. I understand it is difficult for you. We have to ask you a few questions, but it’s okay if that happens later. The doctor said you’d better rest now.’ The cops left the room. Tom was weak, and felt dizzy. He fell asleep in a few minutes.
‘We have come together to honour and remember a worthy man. This man was shot by mafia killers, who thought Tom Ripley was a notorious gang member. Their mistake was fatal to Tom. After three days in coma and a few minutes of consciousness, he got an internal bleeding the bullets caused him. We shall remind our worthy Tom as a friend, a fellow and a good person. We shall meet him in our second life!’
People started crying, gently, as the coffin was brought in. While Tom lie in state, he had a triumphant smile at his face. I shall never forget his smile.
The last page but one
This page is often quite interesting, because it really tries to ends the book. Or sometimes it tries to make an open end to the book. Besides that, this page is also quite important because it often give you a last explanation.
This is the last page but one in The talented Mr Ripley:
On this page, Tom takes a taxi, to get to the American Express in Athens. In that building, he asked whether there are any letters for Thomas Ripley. There were even three letters for him. Most important was the letter from Mr Greenleaf, in reply to Toms letter about ten days ago. Herbert Greenleaf wants to thank Tom for all he has done for the Greenleafs. He says they (Mr and Mrs Greenleaf) finally accepted Dickies suicide. On the second and last page, there are two more sentence from the letter, in which Herbert is saying another time, he wants to thank Tom and he is looking forward to a reply from him.
There are five people who are important in certain way, on this page. First is of course Tom Ripley, second is Herbert in his letter, third is Dickie(=Richard), and besides them, there are also two less important persons: the taxi driver and the woman in the American Express.
This page is actually not really important. There is only one thing on it, which is important: Herbert thanks Tom and says the Greenleafs (still) trust Tom. From the letter you can draw the conclusion that Tom is safe, no longer under suspicion and that he is free to go everywhere he wants to. In that way, this page really is important; it has a happy ending, although Tom killed several people.
In most books, there is thought about things in the book before and during making the book. You can summarize all these things in ‘Deeper thoughts’. I will tell something about the thing(s) the writer wants to tell us, the main character and my favourite passage in the book.
In this book you can have a look in a mans life and his head. You follow everything he does, makes, thinks or sees. All these parts together will give us a moral thing; something which the writer wants us to learn. But it is not easy to find that moral in this book. Actually, you can see several morals in this book, though one is more important than the other.
The first and maybe the most important moral is the duel between good and evil, and the feelings of guilt which evil brings. During the entire book, Tom is not sure whether he wants and will bring Dickie back home. Sometimes he is really sure that he will bring him back to New York, and later, he actually wants to kill Dickie. Once he killed Dickie, Tom is afraid and scared to be under suspicion. He is glad to leave this tension behind him after he received the letter from Mr Greenleaf.
Highsmith wants us to think about every deed we do. Is it okay what we do? Will is have any (negative) consequences? Will I live in fear for years after I did this?
Other less important morals are: watch out for every person you see, it might be someone who you cannot trust, maybe it’s a killer or a thief.
Or: in every human being hides a tiny piece of evil. Most people suppress it, but you can release it with just the slightest piece of evil in your environment.
I will illustrate (one of) the message(s) in my book, by using an example, which you see on the left.
On this page, Tom is trying to make money, by swindling Mr Reddington. This poor man believes Tom, and probably will send him the money. You can see the message in this page: you cannot trust anybody. You have a phone call, in which (you think) a nice guy from the US Tax Department friendly asks you to send the company some money you forgot to pay. You believe this man, and you send your money to a swindler. Don’t trust anybody through the telephone!
There is another thing in this page: in the last paragraph, Tom is pressing his hands together between his knees, and is giggling. This means, Tom was nervous, and is now glad the stupid man will send Tom some money. This is the duel between good and evil; Tom actually didn’t want to do this, but he was forced to do it, by ‘evil powers’. That’s why he is nervous.
The main character
Tom is in a difficult situation, in the second half of the book. He sometimes isn’t feeling very well. You can see this in different words, expressed in the book. Here is a short list of Toms feelings, and the translations, and the page numbers of where he felt this.
My favourite passage
When you read a book, you always find several passages, which you like very much. I will show one part of the book, which is my favourite passage:
In this passage, Tom kills Dickie with an oar. I find this mostly likely a very exciting and interesting passage. It is nice to see how the writer is illustrating Dickies death. You read through this part very quick, and it is probable that you read this part a second time. It is written very short, compact, but it is very interesting though. You can really see them both being on the little boat, Tom ‘cutting’ into Dickies neck. Every kind of things happen in this short part. It is very important because Dickies death is the most important part for the rest of the story.
I arrived in Italy two weeks ago. I quickly found Dickie, and had a few nice days with him. But he was getting cranky. He was in a bad mood, and so was I. I couldn’t hide the feelings I had for him, so I killed him, with an oar. I don’t know whether that was smart or not, but for now, I have taken his identity. I can cash his money, and use his stuff. I am happy for the moment, and I dumped Dickies corpse and his boat. Although I don’t think the police will find his body, or his boat, I don’t feel very safe.
I am afraid I have to run away, run away all my life, and run away from my life. I don’t know what to do, and I hope you might give me some of your noble advise. Should I be a hermit in Tibet or something? Or should I come back to NYC? Or is it better to report myself to the police?
I hope you could answer me, rather yesterday then tomorrow.
PS: my address is:
A final word
This was a good book. It was not difficult to read, and it was really original. Although I usually don’t read very quick in English, I have read this book reasonable quick. It was fun to read it, although there was not a real climax. I now understand why there was a film made from this book.