Patricia Highsmith

The Boy Who Followed Ripley

""...Highsmith always writes with perfection and her sense of time and place is sublime. " "


When a troubled young runaway arrives on Tom Ripley's French estate, he is drawn into a world he thought he'd left behind: the seedy underworld of Berlin, involving kidnapping plots, lies and deception. Ripley becomes the boy's protector as friendship develops between the young man with a guilty conscience and the older one with no conscience at all.

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Originally published in 1980, this chapter in Tom Ripley's life appears, on general consensus, to be the weakest in Highsmith's 'Ripliad'. These people are hardcore Highsmith fans and not being disrespectful, but I can see their point. Firstly, this appears to be a different kind of Ripley as portrayed in the three previous books. Here, Ripley is not so mercenary. He is more reactive here as it is a situation he has been put in to, rather than one of his own making. So, Tom tends to be more on the back foot than usual. For a woman who didn't like people, (she even dedicated her novel, 'The Glass Cell' to her cat, Spider), Highsmith is adept at writing about people. Frank, the boy in question is a sixteen-year old and has run away from his home in America after a traumatic event. He meets Tom by chance near his home in Villeperce. Frank is unpredictable, changes his mind and emotions like the wind changes direction and is whinny and hugely annoying. And that is how most teenagers are! As usual, Highsmith takes us on a travelogue of her own, this time to Berlin. The Berlin wall was still up, not to be pulled down for another nine years after Tom's visit. Here is where Tom starts to behave true to form, killing with impunity. His adventures in Berlin, with the aid of the wonderfully drawn Eric and Peter (who should have had their own book in my opinion), Highsmith takes Tom et al. on a trip of Berlin's notorious gay scene. This leads Tom at one point dealing with a gang of crooks in full drag! As I read I am sure I could hear Highsmith, cigarette firmly in mouth, squawking with delight at Tom's latest escapade. Her ending to this book I could see coming, but hoped I would be proved wrong. Sadly, I was not and it kind of deflated the finish of the novel, but then I have had this with Highsmith for thirty years! Most of her stuff I love, and some I have thrown across the room in frustration. Whatever the outcome, Highsmith always writes with perfection and her sense of time and place is sublime.

Reviewed By:

Chris Simmons