Carol – Patricia Highsmith: Review & Recommend | CLASSICS CATCHUPS

After way too long of only reading books that were for my university course, I finally found the time to sit down with a book I’ve wanted to read for years and read for fun. Of course, as an English student, I can’t read a book and not think about it for a long time after and have a lot of opinions, so rather than continuing to subject my friends to my thoughts whenever I happen to have them, here is a compilation of my (spoiler-y) thoughts on the book Carol, by Patricia Highsmith, also published under the title The Price of Salt.

Carol follows the story of Therese Belivet, a young woman initially working as a store assistant, though her true passion is set design. While working in a department store over Christmas, she encounters Carol, a beautiful older woman. Carol becomes the subject of Therese’s obsession, and she manages to get in contact with the older woman, and they start to develop a friendship.

From the start, Carol and Therese’s relationship seems strange. Carol is considerably older than Therese, and Therese’s obsession with Carol seems concerning. Perhaps I’m reading through a modern lens, and this would have been seen as more appropriate at the time, but a shop assistant contacting a customer sets off alarm bells for me. Carol, however, seems unperturbed by Therese’s interest in her, taking her out for lunch, taking her back to her house, introducing her to her friends.

Meanwhile, Therese’s relationship with her boyfriend is becoming more and more fraught, as she refuses to accompany him to Europe, and spends more and more time working on her sets and with Carol. From the very start, Therese seems mostly uninterested in her boyfriend, and their relationship seems stale: they do not appear to be in love any longer, if indeed they ever were. Richard, the boyfriend, still seems to be chasing Therese by inviting her on his trip to Europe, pressuring her and repeatedly bringing it up when she tells him she does not want to go. Their relationship is clearly not a good fit for Therese, and I was begging her to ditch him and let him move on and find someone else from very early on in the book.

Therese and Carol’s relationship is very imbalanced from the start, with Carol holding the power. She is older, richer, and Therese is obsessed with her, meaning she can snap at Therese, and boss her around without Therese retaliating. This adds to the strange nature of their relationship, as Therese clearly does not stand on equal ground with Carol, and equally clearly, she does not care. This power imbalance levels out towards the end of the novel, as the dynamic between the characters shifts, but it is still Therese chasing Carol.

Having said this, I absolutely loved the book. I didn’t like the power imbalance, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t fully enjoy the story itself, and the characters. I truly fell in love with the book towards the end, where Carol and Therese take a road trip. Without giving too much away, this is where elements of the thriller genre really slip in, when Therese fully realises what is at stake, while Carol has known all along what she stands to lose. The shift in their relationship and the events of the road trip bring Carol’s vulnerable side out more, and lessens the imbalance between the characters. The antagonist, Carol’s ex-husband Harge is mostly absent, but looms over the story, affecting Carol’s movements and forcing her hand, and this is most evident during the road trip section. The road trip also makes apparent that Therese had more power over Carol than the reader, and Therese, had realised up until this point. While Therese had been chasing after Carol, Carol had been alternating between chasing after her too, and backing off out of fear.

The conclusion to the novel is hopeful, unlike many other LGBT narratives, especially of the time, and it is just prior to the conclusion that Therese finally holds more power over Carol than Carol does over her, a perfect swap in the relationship dynamic to round off the novel, and it was the ending that cemented the novel as a firm favourite of mine.

This review also published on my goodreads account, https://goodreads.com/ells_f.

 

 

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