Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

The Friday morning book group is discussing Patricia Highsmith's classic 1955 novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley, this Friday, March 4 at 10:30 a.m. Tom Ripley is a ne'er-do-well who runs into an acquaintance's father at a bar in New York. Mr. Greenleaf sends Tom to Europe talk his son Dickie, a painter in a small Italian village on the coast, into returning to the United States.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Ripley is an essay by James Campbell that appeared in the New York Times Book Review for the occasion of what would be Tom Ripley's 80th birthday. Spoiler warning: don't read it if you plan to read the next four Tom Ripley novels! Patricia Highsmith died in 1995 and was a non-conformist to the end; you can read about her life on Wikipedia.

Discussion Questions (These have plot spoilers)

Do you think Tom was born a sociopath, or did he become one because of the way he grew up?

The Talented Mr. Ripley was Patricia Highsmith's favorite novel and she sometimes signed letters as "Tom". Could you identify with Tom? Did you like or dislike him or both? Why?

Why did Tom kill Dickie? Was he infatuated with Dickie, or frustrated by him?

When Tom is in Paris, he felt that "This was the clean slate he had thought about on the boat coming over from America. This was the real annihilation of his past and of himself, Tom Ripley, and his rebirth as a completely new person" (page 127 in the paperback). Why isn't Tom comfortable being himself?

Have you read Henry James' The Ambassadors, the novel Tom tries to borrow in the ship's library? How did it inspire the premise of The Talented Mr. Ripley?

If you saw the movie version, how is it different from the book? Which did you prefer? You can read the movie's plot here.

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