Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thomas Ripley

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955)
After watching Plein Soleil (René Clément - 1960) several times, I have been familiar with the story of Tom Ripley. It's interesting, though, to read about Tom's life in New York and how Dickie's father thinks Tom is the right person to persuade Dickie to return to America. Marge doesn't like Tom and thinks he is queer. In the beginning of Plein Soleil, there is an amphibian plane takes off. I always wonder who is on the plane. Unless I have missed something, the book doesn't mention anything about it. In the movie, there is also a scene where Tom says how Dickie (in the movie his name is changed to Philippe) saved him from drowning when they were teens, but Dickie tells Marge he had never seen him before Mongibello. After reading the book, it could be both are telling the truth: Tom remembers, but Dickie doesn't. Dickie's body is never found and Tom can get away with Dickie's money, even though several experts believe Dickie's signature has been forged. In Plein Soleil, he gives the money to Marge.

Ripley Under Ground (1970)
I was amazed to find that this 2nd book was as good as the first. Sequel is usually not as good as the first. However, in this case, it is not true. Patricia Highsmith was a very good writer. Six years have passed since Dickie Greenleaf's affair. Tom is now 31 years old and has been married for three years to Heloise Plisson, daughter of millionaire owner of Plisson Pharmaceutiques. The happy couple live in Villeperce-sur-Seine. They name their house Belle Ombre. In this book, Tom is involved in a fraud. He and his gang makes money from a dead painter called Derwatt. When all Derwatt's works have been sold, the gang sells new paintings by someone else. An American, Murchison, notices the difference, so the gang must come up with something to explain it. This book is called Ripley Under Ground because at some point, Tom is buried alive. He can get away, as usual, of course.

Ripley's Game (1974)
Six months have passed since the Derwatt episode. Tom sometimes work for Reeves, a fence. This time Reeves asks Tom to find someone to kill a mafioso or two. Tom suggests a picture framer from Fountainebleau called Jonathan Trevanny because this man has made an unpleasant remark to him. In a party, Tom approaches him and says, "I'm Tom Ripley. I live in Villeperce." Jonathan replies in a sneering way, "Oh yes, I've heard of you." Tom knows he has a bad reputation because of the Dickie Greenleaf affair, and after that there is the Derwatt case; but Jonathan's reply sounds nasty to him, so Tom wants to do a practical joke on him by giving his name to Reeves, to play his game. Interesting to read how an honest person like Jonathan can be corrupted by money. He kills the first mafioso successfully by shooting him at a train station. At this point in the story, all goes around Jonathan, so I'm glad when Tom appears again to help Jonathan in his 2nd murder because Reeves wants the mafioso to be garroted on a train, and Tom knows Jonathan cannot do that. Although Jonathan is very rich after that, he doesn't know how to explain about the money to his Catholic wife, Simone, who will never accept the blood money, even though the victims are mafia members. Tom tries to help Jonathan, without any success. In the first book, it's Tom himself who starts to do murder because he wants Dickie's money. He offers Dickie friendship and companionship, but Dickie replies him with ingratitude and hostility. Marge is drawing Dickie away from him, so Tom kills him and becomes him to possess his money. In the 3rd book, Jonathan is also having this moral corruption. Tom only opens the way to him. Jonathan can say no to Reeves, but finally he gives up to the temptation. Simone has a big prejudice against Tom. I symphatize with Tom (this is Highsmith's intention, I think), but I dislike Simone. She hates Tom so much and blames him for all that has happened, although in the end she accepts the money and is 'a trifle ashamed of herself'. I like the part about the harpsichord: "Tom sat at the harpsichord, playing the base of a Goldberg variation, trying to get the fingering in his head and in his hand. [...] Tom knew how the variation should sound, because he had Landowska's recording. As he was going over it for the third or fourth time and feeling that he had made progress, the telephone jangled."

All the 3 books are very good. Perhaps I will read the next 2 Ripley books: The Boy Who Followed Ripley (1980) and Ripley Under Water (1991).

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