Monday, December 31, 2007

45. Ripley Under Water by Patricia Highsmith

Ripley Under Water picture

This is the 4th book in the fantastic Ripley series. I actually was suprised to see that there are 5 books in the series. I've been avoiding the Ripley series in the last couple of years, just because I have gotten so much pleasure from her stand-alone books. But I found this in a used bookstore in Berkeley for a decent price and figured it was about time to catch up with everyone's favorite civilized sociopath (or is he?).

This novel revisits the guilt of Ripley's past crimes as an American couple moves into his small french town and start intimating that they know what he's done. This moves into a campaign of subtle and not-so-subtle harrassment that forces Ripley to react. You definitely need to have read the previous Ripley books to enjoy and follow this one. There were at times so many reference catch-ups and backstory explanations that it got a bit annoying. I think it was a while between this and the last one and Highsmith was either reminding herself or her editor made her do it.

Despite these small interruptions from the flow, the book is really engaging. At this point, you've kind of come full circle with Ripley. As a reader, you are totally rooting for him (at least I was), though Highsmith still does a fantastic job of making you feel slightly uncomfortable with this. His opponent seems just as psychotic as Ripley, but he's uncivilized about it, so you hate him. It's hilariously ironic to read Ripley's thoughts about the antagonist and his wife and how abnormal and psychotic he thinks they must be.

The whole Ripley series is a study of morality. She pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable, taking the reader along with Ripley in his love of fine foods, good music, pleasant conversation and the french countryside as well as his penchance for a little murder or corpse-hiding when these things become necessary.

What is weird to me is how when the first Ripley movie came out, there was this big flurry of "re-discovering" Highsmith, with lengthy articles in (where else) the tiresome New Yorker. As if her literary legacy had completely vanished. But her books were being constantly published in the 80s and 90s and you can still find tons of used copies in non-movie branded versions. I suspect that the mystery-reading community (especially in England) has always considered her to be a mainstay. It's just that suddenly money in the form of a big movie found her and now "real" literary critics have decided that she has now surpassed the lowly depths of her genre and is allowed to be elevated to their lofty heights.

If you have never read any Highsmith, you definitely should. As I say, her books can be found in decent quantities in most used bookstores. If you are going to read the Ripleys, start at the beginning. They are a greater commitment, but definitely worth it. But any of her other books are just as rewarding and sometimes much darker and more disturbing.

Here is the order of the Ripley books:

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955)
Ripley Under Ground (1970)
Ripley's Game (1974)
The Boy Who Followed Ripley (1980)
Ripley Under Water (1991)

Holy disaster! I see that I made a terrible error. Ripley Under Water is the last in the series! I assumed that it was the penultimate one based on the listing I found inside two books. Wow. That screws me up. Now I am going to have to scramble to read The Boy Who Followed Ripley and then try and fold it under the last one in my brain. Not easy to do, people. This is what you get when you just buy books willy-nilly without a plan.


Craig D. said...

The last two books are very good, but they don't quite measure up to the first three. I sort of consider the series a strong trilogy with a couple of fun epilogues. I always warn people against starting with either of the last two, since they don't exactly represent what's so good about Highsmith's best. And, like you said, Under Water is so reliant upon continuity. If you haven't read the first three, they come highly recommended. Ripley's Game in particular, which I consider Highsmith's best novel.

OlmanFeelyus said...

Yes, I love Ripley's Game. There are a couple moments of sheer insanity in that book that really put you into Ripley's mind that are quite a bit of joyous reading.

I like your trilogy concept.