Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Yes, Happy Birthday

I was thrilled to find in Sunday's New York Times Book Review James Campbell’s essay “Happy Birthday Mr. Ripley.” He’s referring to Tom Ripley, wine connoisseur, francophile, gardener, art forger, and murderer, fictional creation of the late Patricia Highsmith.

Are there any better mysteries than these? The first Ripley book The Talented Mr. Ripley appeared in 1954. There followed four more Ripley books, the last one appearing in 1992. As Campbell points out, Ripley was 25 in the first book, so he’d turn 80 this year. (Highsmith aged Ripley correctly throughout the series; in each installment he is older and more interesting.)

In contrast to the overblown filler-stuffed doorstops currently gracing the library and bookstore shelves (see several of my recent posts where I complain and complain), the Ripley books are perfect little packages. My 1981 Penguin paperback version of The Talented Mr. Ripley (original price $3.50) comes in at 249 pages. In those pages not a word is wasted and Highsmith achieves what few authors manage to do; she creates a compelling, sympathetic psychopath. Once you meet Ripley you just love him. You root for him. You agree with him that he needs to kill Thomas Murchison. You are really glad he gets away with murder, and then gets away with it again and again. If you have not read these, please do so right away. You will find them a bracing tonic, like a tall glass of lemonade on a hot day. Happy birthday Tom! I hope you are alive and well and enjoying your retirement! (Patricia Highsmith died in 1995 so we either have to imagine Tom's eventual demise or believe that he will somehow live forever.)

3 comments:

Citizen Reader said...

Too bad the movie didn't follow suit as a "perfect little package." Way too long and just not right. I still vaguely feel that Matt Damon was also miscast as Ripley.

Becky said...

Yes, I thought about mentioning that awful movie but decided not to. They changed the ending and everything. I was really furious. I thought Jude Law, as Dickie, would have been a better Tom Ripley. What a disappointment.

_lethe_ said...

Hi, have you read any other Highsmith books?

I haven't read Ripley, but I tried three others, and disliked them all. One, widely regarded as one of her best, featured a main character who because of his suspicious behaviour is arrested for a murder he did not commit. It annoyed me so much, the whole time I kept thinking "the only reason you behave so stupidly is because otherwise there wouldn't be a story". I found it totally unconvincing.

I do like several of the films adapted from her books though: The American Friend and Strangers on a Train come to mind.

Should I give Ripley (the book) a chance?

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