The Readlist: December 2016

The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

You know what you need to do occasionally? Treat yo self, as they say in Parks & Rec. Thus, on that notion, I did treat myself to a lovely hardback edition of the first three Ripley novels. It’s hardback! It’s got a bookmark ribbon! It looks, for want of a better word, lush.

I’ve been meaning to get onboard the Highsmith train for a while now. I’ve seen numerous of her novels in film form (namely The Talented Mr Ripley with Matt Damon and Jude Law, The Two Faces Of January with Oscar Issacs and Carol with Cate Blanchett) but this was the first time I’ve sat down to read her. She seems (the anti-semitism aside, which is swept under the carpet) an interesting character in herself. A hard and fast misanthrope who despised company, surrounded herself with cats and got lost in her own writing.

The Talented Mr Ripley is a classic case of the anti-hero: we become incredibly sympathetic towards him as a reader, with the book opening with recollections from his time growing up, his inherent loneliness and search for something more meaningful, which leads to us willing him to get away with the crimes he commits.

There’s a lot of gay undertones here which have been well documented before and appear more explicitly* in the 1999 film. There’s an interesting video taking a look at this here. Within the book, it’s both a case of him wanting to be Dickie and all he has and is and also be friends/platonic lovers with him.** The interesting thing here, of course, is that he’s not pained by Dickie’s death. There’s barely a touch of guilt, there’s more panic at being caught in the immediate aftermath. The fact that Ripley can manage to go from being obsessed and infatuated with someone to murdering them in such a short space of time, purely because their attention in him has waned is quite the step!

I really enjoyed reading this and, in fact, it’s probably the first novel I’ve legitimately enjoyed reading and wanted to continue reading in a few months. I did have some issues with it: the actual murder of Dickie was remarkably short, but I appreciate that was probably an authorial choice there, to make it seem as sporadic and unhinged as possible. It’s over and done with in a paragraph. The final quarter of the novel, based around Ripley’s merry dance with the police forces and Dickie’s friends and family, starts to get a little ploddy and repetitive and then BAM the novel seems to end rather suddenly. There’s a  real rushed feel to the ending, where everything feels like it’s coming to a sudden head for Ripley, everything is going to unravel and almost immediately everything’s fine and no more questions are asked. Really?! Even with the will situation?

Another interesting notion I took from the novel comes about mid-way through, before the police start asking too many questions, where Ripley decides he’s quite happy to travel the word alone with money and wealth and Dickie’s name over any companionship, for fear of being discovered. I understand that Ripley, being mildly sociopathic, has a misanthropic element to him but I believe he does likewise crave attention and relationships. He’s clearly been looking for something for a while: the way he moves around New York between different people, quickly realising he’s growing irritable and tired of them. He’s in part after their material goods, as if association is enough for him, but I believe he still desperately wants something more meaningful. There’s one brief glimpse of a genuine friendship with someone which has no ulterior motives – Cleo, in the novels first pages, but very little else. Ripley wants to feel part of something, to be appreciated but likewise, needs to spend time in his own company too. He seems to fail to understand that being and having both is fine: it’s exactly the kind of way I am; I enjoy my own company but do also need people around me – I’m not a social animal but I thrive off other people in the right scenarios.

*explicitly in terms of clear inclusion, not sexually
** which is oh so familiar with me and my crushes, minus the murdering (touchwood). Simon Amstell has expressed this similar thought before with his obsession with Ben Whishaw sorry, Ben Theodore in Grandma’s House “Do you want to be him or fuck him?” “Both? That’s normal, isn’t it?!”

Long Reads & Articles

Sugar, Sugar This is a fascinating insight into nutritional health and how we blindly follow any advice given to us because “they must know best”. Sugar is worse than saturated fat and evidence clearly shows its link to obesity. And when sat-fat is removed from foods, what’s added to maintain flavour? Sugar and salt.

Red Tops Revenge Newspapers would probably claim they follow the public mood – they’re just pandering to how people feel and what they want. The opposite seems more true; their readership may be declining but their voice is strong, and shapes public perception. It’s not immediate: but if you keep saying immigration is the biggest problem in the UK today, after a while it’ll seem unarguably true. This will obviously change over time – ‘news’ consumption online on these tabloid sites is fairly minimal, they give more homepage space over to viral sensations in the hope for clicks. Actual ‘news’ can be hard to come by.

False Memovies Do you have any false memories? Or things you seem to remember, try Googling and nothing pops up? If it’s not on the internet, can it have existed? We think of the internet as a know-it-all tool, but there’s so many swathes of cultural history just missing from it. This became incredibly apparent to me when I tried Googling information on old chain stores and supermarkets and little pops up. What about if people collectively remember something, or believe they do, but there’s no proof?

Diamonds Are For Trevor I read this article agessssss ago (it’s nearly a year old now) but I don’t think I ever posted a link on the blog.

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