Although not published in the United States until 1998, RIPLEY BOGLE had first appeared almost a decade earlier in England and Ireland. Winner of the Betty Trask Award, the Rooney Prize, and the Irish Book Award, the novel had an established track record before its presentation to an American audience. It is a work of gritty realism, presenting the nasty side of street life through the eyes of a twenty-something Irish expatriate of working-class origin in 1980’s London.
Ripley Bogle, verbose and eloquent, street person extraordinaire, sets out over the course of four days—a Thursday through a Sunday—to relate the gut-wrenching story of his rise and fall. Born in Belfast, Ripley early on realizes his extraordinary intellectual gift all the while surviving the difficulties of being a Catholic in Ireland in the 1980’s. Ripley quickly gains the reader’s sympathies; he is equally fluent in Shakespeare and Joyce as in slang and profanity. With seeming innocence, he recounts his meteoric rise from his unhappy childhood amid a dysfunctional family to the heights of Cambridge University and his inevitable fall from grace to his present position on the streets of London, where he is starving, cold, and alone.
It is not until the end of his narrative, however, that Ripley finally lays all his cards on the table, shattering the trust and sympathy he has worked so hard to instill in his loyal readers. “I haven’t quite been candid,” Ripley states simply, and then proceeds to blow the reader away with his final revelations. He says that “Twentieth-century heroes must be flawed,” and so he is. RIPLEY BOGLE, both the character and the novel, is complex and manipulative.