Friday, November 29, 2019

Ripley Underground by Patricia Highsmith

If anything, I like Ripley Underground more than The Talented Mr. Ripley. It’s incredibly tense from near the beginning. It picks up a few years after the main action of the first book, and Tom Ripley is living in luxury in France; partially due to the money he inherited from a character in the first book, partly from his recently married wife’s income, and partly from several grifts he has going. The one that provides the initiating action for the novel is that he has partnered with an art gallery and an artist to continue to produce work under the name of a more successful artist who killed himself. The artist’s work has reached a new height of popularity, and there is a big operation including smuggling, merchandising and a steady output of new works, and Ripley gets his cut. But one collector spots an inconsistency in the newer work and starts asking questions. Ripley impersonates the dead artist, now allegedly hiding in Mexico and things spiral out from there.

Highsmith does a great job evoking Ripley’s world of wealth and the sociopathic lengths to which he’ll go to protect it. If you’ve read the first book, you will see some of the twists coming, but there were several genuine surprises mixed in. Highsmith is a master of both tense action and portraying sociopaths. This is true across five of the six of her novels I’ve read.* She is relentless in her bleak view of human nature. It’s difficult at times to know whether she’s trying to say everyone has this darkness in them or if she sees her sociopaths as separate from the rest of humanity. While I tend to think the former, I’m not sure that she would agree. In either case, she uses her insight into people’s nastier tendencies to great effect in her books, this not least among the ones I’ve read. I was in the mood for something bleak and seedy, and this checked that box nicely.

Highly recommended, though you should definitely Talented Mr. Ripley first if you ever plan to read it. The 1999 adaptation is excellent as well.

*The other was The Price of Salt( the basis of the movie Carol) which, as a romance, has no relentless sociopaths in it. I also highly recommend it!

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