The Talented Mr Ripley Summary

Patricia Highsmith

The Talented Mr Ripley

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The Talented Mr Ripley Summary

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The Talented Mr. Ripley is a 1955 psychological thriller by Patricia Highsmith. It is the first book starring the iconic anti-hero Tom Ripley, a small-time con man and master manipulator whose skill with people and manipulation allows him to get access to power and influence. Focusing on Ripley’s first major con, The Talented Mr. Ripley establishes the main character and explores themes of identity, obsession, and the psychological impact of attempting to become someone else. The series was popular upon its release and remains significant culturally today, although it was controversial at the moment of its release due to its main character’s implied bisexuality, paired with his manipulative nature and occasional outbursts of rage and psychopathic behavior.

The book begins with Tom Ripley as a young man, struggling to survive in New York City. What little money he has, he makes by performing a series of small cons and scamming whoever he can. One day, an opportunity falls in his lap when he’s approached by Herbert Greenleaf, a rich shipping magnate with a wayward son. Greenleaf is looking for someone to travel to Mount Etna in Italy to bring his son back home to rejoin the family business. Ripley, always an expert at seeing an opportunity and taking advantage, fabricating a history between himself and Dickie Greenleaf to make him seem like the ideal choice. Soon, Herbert believes that Tom is a long-lost friend of Dickie’s and the perfect choice to bring him home.

Upon arriving in Italy, Tom meets up with Dickie and quickly worms his way into his social circle. Dickie, a sociable fellow, takes a shine to Tom and the two become fast friends. However, Tom doesn’t have the same luck with Dickie’s girlfriend Marge Sherwood. Marge becomes suspicious of Tom quickly, especially when she sees how much time Dickie and Tom are spending together. She implies to Dickie that Tom is gay, which begins the process of Dickie souring on Tom. Their friendship starts to unravel one day when Dickie walks into his room to find Tom dressed in his clothes and impersonating him. This breaks the spell that Tom’s charm had placed on Dickie, and Dickie begins to notice how much Tom is hanging around him and leeching off him. Tom, meanwhile, has become more and more obsessed with Dickie’s lifestyle and desperately wants to maintain his new comforts.

Dickie agrees to travel with Tom on a short trip to the nearby city of Sanremo, but Tom senses that Dickie is about to end their friendship. The two take a boat trip to the middle of the sea, and Tom seizes the opportunity and murders Dickie with an oar, weighs his body down with the anchor, and sends Dickie’s body and the boat to the depths. He then assumes Dickie’s identity, living off his trust fund and breaking up with Marge via mail. However, his scam is threatened when he encounters Freddie Miles, an old friend of Dickie’s. Although Tom tries to impersonate Dickie as best he can, Freddie quickly detects something is off with his friend. When Freddie confronts Tom, Tom wastes no time and kills Freddie with an ashtray, faking a murder by robbers to throw the police off his trail.

Now a double-murderer, Tom knows the police will soon be on his trail. He goes back to his old Tom Ripley identity and moves to Venice, where he is soon tracked down by several people searching for Dickie. Marge, Herbert, and a private detective hired by the latter all confront him, hoping to find answers. Tom attempts to throw them off the trail by telling a tale of how depressed Dickie was, and how he may have committed suicide. Marge’s suspicion of Tom lessens, and for a while she even stays with him at his house in Venice, however, his ruse nearly comes undone when she finds Dickie’s possessions in Tom’s house. He considers adding her to his body count, but she believes that Dickie committed suicide if he gave his possessions to Tom.

Although the heat is off him for now, Tom is still paranoid about being caught. He flees to Greece, and soon gets word that the Greenleaf family has accepted that their son committed suicide. What’s more, his will has been found, and it says that Tom Ripley inherits everything. This was, of course, forged by Tom on Dickie’s own typewriter. Tom Ripley ends the book rich, secure, and living the life he always dreamed of. However, he’s still beset by paranoia, wondering every day if this is the day his scheme is discovered and he’s dragged off to face justice.

The Talented Mr. Ripley was the first of five books in the character’s adventures, followed by Ripley Under Ground, Ripley’s Game, The Boy Who Followed Ripley, and Ripley Under Water. The first is the best known in the series, having been adapted into a 1999 motion picture by Anthony Minghella and starring Matt Damon as Ripley. Patricia Highsmith wrote 22 novels between 1950 and 1995. Besides the Ripley series, she is best known for Strangers on a Train, adapted into the iconic Alfred Hitchcock film, and The Price of Salt, the controversial lesbian drama which was adapted into the Oscar-nominated 2015 film “Carol”. She was a three-time Edgar Award winner for The Talented Mr. Ripley, Strangers on a Train and the short story The Terrapin.