Highsmith’s Super-antihero – The Talented Mr Ripley

In The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith created a serial killer who is extremely anti-social, yet intelligent and charming.

Tom Ripley is a young man who lives in New York with poverty. He is also deft con-artist. One day he is caught by Mr. Greenleaf, who ask him to go to Europe to persuade his son – Dick Greenleaf back to America. Mr Greenleaf offers a handsome amount of money, so Tom embarks on the mission.

In a small town called Mongibello in Italy, Tom finds Dickie Greenleaf, who lies happily with his girlfriend. As story goes on, Tom quickly becomes Dickie’s friend, and the relationship between he and Dickie gets more and more complicated and obsessive. As a traumatized person, Tom envies Dickie almost in every aspect of his life, and what worse is, he is “abnormally” attracted to him. Unlike the movie version, his attraction to Dickie in original book is not so much sexual, but more platonic and intellectual (of course, Highsmith was not at all into romance, either straight or homosexual).

Whatever Tom’s attraction to Dickie is, it is not the main theme of the story. The story is all about Tom’s game playing, his masterful con-artist skill, his superior intelligence comparing with others, yet, his “human” side of his dark personality. I found this book highly suspenseful, and full of intense moments that kept me on the edge of seat.

If Edith’s Diary is a realistic story about reality, The Talented Mr. Ripley is a surrealistic tale of intellectual imagination. Though due to Highsmith’s masterful writing skill both novels are equally believable, the latter is quite impossible to take place in real world. That’s why I call Tom Ripley a “Super-antihero”: if Edith is a victim of mediocre majority, Ripley is Zarathustra-like “superman”, who satisfies Highsmith’s suppressed despisement of “man”.

The Talented Mr. Ripley is the first book of the series called “Ripliad”, in which Tom Ripley continues living his life as con artist, continues putting himself in troubles and continues getting out. Unfortunately, though I fully enjoyed the first one, I found the rest of series less attractive, and some of them I could not even finish reading. Of course, this is only my personal (and current) reaction, and it doesn’t discount a bit my admiration to Highsmith, because those which I finished always profoundly thrilled my mind, more than most of other books I read.

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