Thursday 6 February 2020

A Ripley's Game Reprise: 1974 US Knopf First Edition of Patricia Highsmith's Third Tom Ripley Novel

What scant posts there have been on here of late have been to do with comics – those are, after all, what have been preoccupying me both personally and professionally over the past year or so – but I have been picking up the odd book here and there too, and among those have been a number by another perennial preoccupation of mine, Patricia Highsmith. Just the other day I came into possession of this:

An American first edition of Ripley's Game, published by Knopf in 1974, dust jacket design by Janet Halverson (whose other jackets include the 1970 and 1978 US firsts of Graham Greene's Travels with My Aunt and The Human Factor, and the 1981 US first of Ross Thomas's The Mordida Man). You may recall... actually at this point I doubt anyone recalls anything I've written on Existential Ennui, but anyway: Ripley's Game, the third book in the Ripliad (soon to become a TV show, with Andrew Scott as Tom Ripley – intriguing and encouraging casting there), is not only my favourite Highsmith novel, but my favourite novel full stop, and it was the acquisition of a 1974 Heinemann first a dozen years ago (in a long-since-vanished Cecil Court bookshop) that first got me into book collecting. As such, it's a totemic book for me.

I had my eye on a Knopf first six years ago, but it slipped through my fingers (as compensation I settled instead for a 1989 Heinemann Uniform Edition). The notion of getting my filthy mitts on a Knopf (ooer) has floated in and out of my head ever since then, but just the other day it seemed the fates had finally aligned when I was in Lewes's Bow Windows Bookshop and co-proprietor (and friend of mine) Ric mentioned he'd come into possession of one as part of a box of books – mostly crime fiction and spy fiction – he'd bought from a local. Or at least he thought he had: when we looked in said box, there was no sign of Ripley's Game. Bugger.

I'd pretty much resigned myself to the fact that once again the Knopf first had eluded my grasp when two days later Ric sent me a message saying he'd found it. And it turned out that not only was it a first edition (not a later printing – the Knopf edition went through a few), but it was once owned by local author John Pearson, he of James Bond: The Authorized Biography and The Life of Ian Fleming fame.

So I'm very happy with my copy (even though the dust jacket is a little battered: the sign of a well-read book, whether by Mr. Pearson or whoever it was Ric bought it off – and quite right too), not least because it affords me the opportunity to compare the US and UK first editions. The text in the Knopf edition, which was published in May of '74, a few months after the Heinemann edition, has been Americanised, or I suppose – depending on whether Highsmith, who was American, wrote the manuscript in American English – re-Americanised: within the first few sentences, there's a "parlor game" as opposed to "parlour game" in the Heinemann edition.

The Knopf has deckled edges, as is often the case with American editions, and a red-stained top block. I also rather like the jacket flap description of Tom Ripley as "energetic, amoral, overcivilized" and "undersensitized".

Now I suppose I'll have to write something abut the other Highsmith books I've picked up – especially as they're all signed.


  1. Your comparison of British and American editions (parlour/parlor) put me in mind of different editions of The Two Faces of January (an excellent Highsmith to rival The Talented Mr. Ripley and The Blunderer). An early edition (not sure which one, I checked it out of the library) recounts some of Chester's backstory, in which he fails to save a small business he went in on. But I had read the book before, and I remembered another version of the story. Sure enough, I tracked down the 1994 Atlantic Monthly Press paperback edition (the one I had originally read) and found the hilarious story of the Walkie-Kar, a scam Chester tried to pull by selling non-existent scooters door-to-door. Apparently, Highsmith decided to add whole paragraphs to this later edition. I'm glad she did, because the story is a hoot. She could be really very funny at times. You can find the Walkie-Kar story on page five of the Atlantic Press edition.

    1. That's very interesting. I've got the Heinemann British first edition of Two Faces (which I agree is great, I wrote about it on here a while back), and that does have the Walkie Car story in it. I wonder which editions don't...?

  2. Thanks for posting re books again. Good find !

    Note your dj is a little tatty. As you probably already know, you can buy a signed first edition with a poor dj and then an unsigned edition with a perfect dj and then swap the dj to have a perfect signed copy.

    This is an old ruse but some of your fans might be unaware of it !

    John Malkovich is the best ever Ripley tho' he's getting on a bit now. Who would you cast ?

    Please keep on posting !

    1. Apologies for the late reply, Anonymous – last year was a bit of a year (for everyone). I rather liked Matt Damon in Talented actually – I always throught it would have been interesting to see an older, more seasoned Damon play Ripley in adaptations of the later books.

  3. A beautiful book, but as they say, you shouldn't judge a book by its cover...

    Why is it not only my favourite Highsmith novel, but my favourite novel full stop?

    I'd love to know.