Friday 13 June 2014

Patricia Highsmith's Ripley's Game: Heinemann Uniform Edition, 1989

NB: Linked in Friday's Forgotten Books, 13/6/14. 

Ripley's Game, Patricia Highsmith's sixteenth novel and the third book in her five-book Ripliad, is, I think, my favourite novel – not only of her novels – that I've read, which is quite a lot – but of all the novels that I've ever read. I wrote about the book at some length the year before last as part of the Great Tom Ripley Reread, and though I was relatively pleased with what I concocted at the time and for a little while after, on reflection I'm not sure I did the novel justice – and especially so in comparison to a series of articles on the book by John Mullan which I recently came across. Originally published in weekly instalments in The Guardian Review in 2003, Mullan's articles break the novel down into four themes – "the anti-hero", "split narratives", "the novel sequence" (i.e. the Ripliad as a whole), and "the setting" – and all are well worth reading for anyone with an interest in the novel, or Tom Ripley, or indeed Highsmith.

I stumbled upon the articles because I'd had my eye on a copy of the 1974 US Knopf hardback edition of Ripley's Game, offered by a UK seller on eBay (and AbeBooks), and was mulling purchasing it, at the same time idly googling the novel with half a mind to posting something on Existential Ennui if and when I did buy it. I already own the 1974 UK Heinemann hardback edition (a key book in my collection), which is in fact the true first edition – it published some months before the American one – but I'd not come across a copy of the US edition on this side of the pond before, and as it's in as short supply as the UK first (fewer than 20 copies in each case on AbeBooks), even though this copy was upwards of thirty quid – not exactly a fortune, but certainly not cheap enough for it to be an impulse purchase – I was quite tempted.

Then someone else went and bought the bloody thing and that was that. I stewed for a bit and briefly considered posting something about how I didn't manage to buy it in an illustration of the unjustifiable impulses, flights of fancy and bizarre sensations of forfeiture and loss which plague the inveterate collector, and so I could link those John Mullan articles, but in the end sanity prevailed – or at least what passes for sanity round these parts – and instead I did what anyone else in their right mind would have done under the circumstances: I went looking for an edition of Ripley's Game that was even scarcer than the 1974 Heinemann and Knopf editions. And I came up with this:

The 1989 reissue of the Heinemann edition, which is actually the third printing of the Heinemann hardback; the original edition was reprinted in the year of publication:

Now, a reissue may not sound terribly interesting or desirable, and maybe to most people it isn't; but to my mind this one is. For one thing there's that aforementioned scarcity: at present I can see just two copies of this edition for sale online, one of them ex-library. Then there's the design of the jacket and attendant jacket blurb, which is different to the 1974 one (both printings):

which bore a photograph on the front by Graham Miller and quite a bit more text overall. The 1989 edition strips back both the jacket text and design (which is uncredited), and in the choice of typeface and photo of a metal puzzle – a nail and a triangle intertwined like Tom Ripley and Jonathan Trevanny in the story – on the front, effectively matches the styling of Heinemann's Uniform Edition of Highsmith's novels, two of which, The Blunderer and The Talented Mr. Ripley – which were issued in the Uniform Edition in 1966 – I own (in later printings) and have blogged about:

However, the weight of the typeface in the title of Ripley's Game is lighter than that in the titles of other Highsmith Uniform Edition books, and there's no mention of this one being part of the Uniform Edition anywhere on the wrapper (and no price on the jacket flap either; I suspect the print run for this edition was small and most copies were destined for libraries and export). What there is a mention of is of two other Ripliad novels being reissued – presumably in the same style – at the same time: The Talented Mr. Ripley – which had already been issued by Heinemann a couple of times in the Uniform styling – and The Boy Who Followed Ripley, which was originally published by Heinemann in 1980.

Anyway, for me, being such a huge fan of Ripley's Game, this is a nice edition to own the novel in (as well as the Heinemann first edition), and I've added it to the Existential Ennui Patricia Highsmith First Edition Book Cover Gallery under "Patriciaphernalia" down the bottom. And while I'm on the subject of Ripley's Game, I've also ordered The American Friend, Wim Wenders's 1977 film adaptation of the novel, on DVD, and plan to watch that and re-watch Liliana Cavani's 2002 adaptation, with a view to posting something on them both. However, my next Patricia Highsmith blog post will probably be on her 1967 novel Those Who Walk Away.


  1. I'll be curious to see what you think of THE AMERICAN FRIEND. Dennis Hopper is obviously not much of a Ripley type. I'll hold the rest of my thoughts until you've reviewed it.

  2. I actually found Hopper to be a nice physical match for the Ripley of the books, handsome but not overly so. He's certainly a better match than Alain Delon, who's far too pretty, and John Malkovich, who's too old and bald and peculiar-looking in general. It's hard to imagine the Tom of the books walking around in a cowboy hat and denim jacket like Hopper does at certain points, but in the scene where he visits Jonathan in his shop and he's dressed in a classy frock coat with combed-back hair, he's pretty much Highsmith's Ripley in the flesh. The movie makes plenty of changes, but I think it's far more faithful than it's ever given credit for.

    But I've already said enough about this movie in past comments. As for the book covers, I'm not sure if I've seen a cover for the third book that I'm entirely satisfied with. I guess the drawer cover is the best I've seen; the screw/nail/paperclip covers seem a bit too generic and minimalist (and uniform, used for multiple books) for my tastes. I think my favorite cover of them all is still the one for the fourth book, with the body on the jagged rocks by the water, which could be one character but could also be another. No spoilers, but you know what I mean if you've read it.

  3. Ta for the comments, both. I watched The American Friend over the weekend, and I did see flashes of the Tom Ripley of the novels in Hopper's performance – the way he smiles when talking to Jonathan sometimes, that sort of thing. Equally, he's also very much Dennis Hopper in places: wild, abandoned, not very Tom-like at all, even in Tom's wildest moments. But the film is, if not faithful, then quite close to the source novel, and more importantly it's a good film in its own right. Bruno Ganz is excellent, and it's arresting and surprising and never less than compelling.

    I'm not sure if I will actually review it though. If I can find the time I will, but Kelly, I'm interested to read your thoughts ahead of that anyway, so if you're inclined to share...