The Talented Mr. Ripley and Ripley Under Ground by Patricia Highsmith (Books 1 and 2 of 20 Books of Summer)

It’s a little odd to spend so much time with Tom Ripley. I alternate between being awed by his cool level-headedness, able to think his way out of any incriminating situation, and dismayed by his detachment from people. From women especially.

It seems that Marge, with her “gourdlike figure”, especially annoys him. I can’t help but think Tom is attracted to Dickie Greenleaf, whose father has sent Tom to Italy in order to bring home. Marge and Dickie are living a most comfortable life, by the sea, the only two Americans in Mongibello. They have seafood, and wine, and lazy hours to spend in the sun until Tom Ripley arrives and takes it all away. He inveigles himself into Dickie’s life, and before long, the two are living together, planning trips to Naples and Rome without Marge.

Tom lives in apparent envy and loathing, both vying for attention in his relationship to Dickie. He tries on Dickie’s suits, his shirts, and longs for the two rings on Dickie’s hand. It is somewhat surprising, then, that he drowns Dickie and abandons the boat they were on, spending the rest of the novel evading detection from Marge, Mr. Greenleaf, the police, and almost from Freddie (a most obnoxious friend of Dickie’s). I almost became confused myself trying to follow the leads and the responses Tom gives in explanation, for he does not readily falter.

My edition from Everyman’s Library contains Ripley Under Ground following The Talented Mr. Ripley. This novel is not so much about Ripley himself under ground, as whom he puts there. The plot revolves around a painter, Philip Derwatt, who no longer exists. Either he has died, or is living incognito elsewhere, but he has left his friends with an art gallery and no more paintings to sell. Hence, Bernard takes up the task of mimicking Derwatt’s art, quite satisfactorily until an American collector notices the difference. He insists that the painting he owns is not authentic, having something to do with the lavender shade that one artist used, but the the other did not.

I found Ripley Under Ground a bit tedious. The tension is there, along with Tom’s psychotic self preservation. But, the novel drags on longer than it should. We know there is fraud in the art world, we know that a body has been buried under ground and how it got there; the problem is that three quarters of the way to the conclusion, we no longer care. We, of course, meaning me.

Belatedly, I now realize that I have begun 20 Books of Summer before Summer officially begins. Perhaps I will be forgiven with The Brothers Karamazov included in my list? Cathy did say it could count for three, so I’ll take that as permission for a head start. 😉

3 thoughts on “The Talented Mr. Ripley and Ripley Under Ground by Patricia Highsmith (Books 1 and 2 of 20 Books of Summer)”

  1. There you go… the advantage of joining TBK Read Along. 🙂 I enjoy Patricia Highsmith’s writing, but haven’t read this, perhaps her most famous one. I still remember the movie adaptation though. Very intriguing and great cast.


  2. I’ve had a patchy experience with PH’s novels. Haven’t read any of the Ripleys, but saw and liked the film with Jude Law and Matt Damon. She’s scarily good at getting into twisted minds.


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