viernes, 12 de marzo de 2010

The Talented Mr. Ripley


The Talented Mr. Ripley (W.W. Norton, 2008)
by Patricia Highsmith
USA, 1955

"Five days passed, calm, solitary but very agreeable days in which he rambled about Palermo, stopping here and there to sit for an hour or so in a café or a restaurant and read his guidebooks and the newspapers.  He took a carrozza one gloomy day and rode all the way to Monte Pelligrino to visit the fantastic tomb of Santa Rosalia, the patron saint of Palermo, depicted in a famous statue, which Tom had seen pictures of in Rome, in one of those states of frozen ecstasy that are given other names by psychiatrists.  Tom found the tomb vastly amusing.  He could hardly keep from giggling when he saw the statue: the lush, reclining female body, the groping hands, the dazed eyes, the parted lips.  It was all there but the actual sound of the panting."  (The Talented Mr. Ripley, 175)

I saw the 1999 Matt Damon/Jude Law/Gwyneth Paltrow film adaptation of Ripley back when it first came out and remember it as an OK movie that didn't blow my mind or anything like that.  So imagine my surprise when I suddenly started craving a Patricia Highsmith read a few months back, and the book that kept calling my name was The Talented Mr. Ripley!  Strange how these things work, no?  A mischievous reworking of Henry James' The Ambassadors imbued with an almost palpable sexual tension, TTMR is a crackerjack travelogue of sorts in which the 20-something title character resorts to murder, identity theft, and forgery to extend his stay in Europe as the most nouveau of nouveau riche American expats.  Highsmith seems to get a lot of love from the critics for having developed a sociopath in Tom Ripley who's so psychologically complex that even non-sociopaths like some book bloggers can understand and empathize with him to a certain extent, but that's hardly all that this novel has going for it.  To me, Highsmith's wicked sense of humor = the real key here--both in the way she teases the audience by constantly putting Ripley in more and more dicey situations where he's in danger of being exposed for all his crimes and in the casual way Ripley can whine about certain trivial offenses just after having clubbed a random friend or acquaintance to death.  Given the questions about Ripley's identity that surface during the course of the novel and the character's understandable reasons for wanting to annihilate his troubled past, I also have to hand it to Highsmith for touching on sexual orientation and class identification issues with her poor, "sissy" protagonist in a manner that feels perfectly natural on the one hand but can also be read as a mocking indictment of the so-called American way of  life on the other.  Surprisingly good, slyly subversive fun--and maybe even the Gatsby of McCarthy Era crime fiction, who knows?  (http://www.wwnorton.com/)

Patricia Highsmith

14 comentarios:

  1. I remember seeing the movie and being horrifically bored by it! It's the one movie I was sorely tempted to walk out on... I just found it agonizing! For that reason, I've never been interested in reading the original source material, but I found your review a lot of fun to read, and it made me wonder if maybe I should reconsider. I did love the excerpt you posted!

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  2. I saw the film and I was very attracted by it. Matt Damon's grandfather is/was Finnish. Bona nit!

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  3. I agree that the humor is an important part of the book, although it's hard to separate myself from Tom's consciousness long enough to see how absurd and comic he can be. I also liked the way she touched lightly on the class and sexuality issues -- they were there, obviously, but never discussed with a heavy hand.

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  4. Wonderfully subversive humor! Just love the darkly original Highsmith. Richard, since you liked this, I would suggest leaving the Ripley path for some even better Highsmith - The Glass Cell or The Price of Salt. But stay away from that recent bio of Highsmith unless you have a special fondness for unlikable people. Jesus! Almost comic in effect.

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  5. I have always wanted to give this book and author a whirl and as yet I still havent (I have this with too many authors) but I will. I dont know if I would constantly be thinking of Damon and Law though which would probably put me off.

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  6. I've been curious about this book and movie for awhile, but I'm glad now that I haven't seen the movie yet since based on your review I think I would definitely like to read the book first. Sounds even more intriguing than I had thought.

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  7. *Steph: Have no fear, the book's way better than the movie as is usually the case. At the very least, I can't see you or anyone else being "horrifically bored" by the novel though I could certainly understand that reaction in regard to the film (I was a little kind to it in my post because I can't really remember whether I thought it was bad or merely so-so at the time)!

    *Merike: I didn't know that about Matt Damon. Interesting trivia!

    *Dorothy: Ripley's reaction to things was more frightening than absurd or comic to me as well, but I did think Highsmith was quite devilish in her use of black humor (like in the scene where Tom's dumping a body in the ancient Roman cemetery and mumbles something about the probability of it being a "patrician" tomb). I completely agree with you about Highsmith's subtlety in handling class and sexuality; in fact, her restraint surprised me given how provocative she was in terms of the crime themes.

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  8. *Frances: I def. look forward to reading more Highsmith at some point, so thanks so much for these tips. Very useful! I have to say, though, that I've been very intrigued by other reports about the new bio you warn me of...so I may add that to the list as well once it's available in paperback. Quick, who was more unlikable: Patricia Highsmith or Kristin Lavransdatter? Ha ha, KL jokes never go out of style around here although they probably should!

    *Simon: I'd also get mad if I had Jude Law stuck in my head, but it was easy to forget him and Damon once the story got rolling. The more I think about that movie casting, though, the more I prefer the book if you know what I mean!

    *Sarah: I actually like watching the movie before reading the book in most cases because a good book will almost always throttle a good movie. In this case, I recommend the book but don't recommend the movie unless you're a huge fan of one of the stars. I think you'd get a kick out of the novel, though, for sure!

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  9. This post is a timely reminder for me: The Price of Salt is sitting on my to-be-read shelf, begging to be read! I've never read any Highsmith (or seen any film adaptations), but definitely looking forward to it based on your and Frances's recommendations. Thanks, Richard!

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  10. Highsmith was unlikable in a way that would make me want to hang with her and hers for a weekend of debauchery and then not see her again for years. She is unlikable in a very amusing and delicious way. And that bio is very well written.

    But KL? Well, I am not a violent person but the temptation to slap her could overwhelm me. Hmm. Do I sound a little off today? :)

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  11. Oh, you have totally captivated me with this review! Sold! I'm out to get it soon.

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  12. Hola, Richard!
    QUé bueno que estás por buenos aires!!! Avisá te dan a ganas de tomarte un café en aquí en Baires! saludos!

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  13. *Emily: If this first Ripley novel is at all representative, I think you'd get a kick out of Highsmith's sort of surreptitious humor/malice. Meanwhile, Frances' Highsmith recommendations have me all pumped up!

    *Frances: Whatever your take on violence, KL deserves a group slap, I agree. "Unlikable in a very amusing and delicious way." That Highsmith bio gets more and more interesting sounding every day!

    *Bellezza: Sorry for the delay in responding, but I was away on vacation. Hope the novel lives up to your expectations!

    *¡Hola Ever! Che, pasé un rebuen tiempo en Baires, comiendo, comprando libros para la biblioteca personal, y tomando café. Es para repetir. ¡Un abrazo!

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  14. I have finally read this novel, giving you the credit for intriguing me enough to read it in my post. You hit on many more points than I do (sexual orientation, class and American ideals most specifically); I just stayed in the identity realm. But, it was an endlessly fascinating book. I wish we could discuss it at a table in Rome.

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