After finally finishing Carol by Patricia Highsmith – it took long enough, about 2 months – I decided to take the step into bookblogger world and write my first review.
The protagonist is a young woman called Therese Belivet, who is engaged to a man and wants to be stage designer. While she works at the toy department in a store, a stunning woman in her thirties walks up to her to buy a present for her daughter. Therese falls for her the moment she sees her and after meeting Carol again, she knows that she can’t let her go. They start to meet on a regular basis and Therese soon accepts that what she feels for her new friend isn’t just platonic.
She breaks up with her former boyfriend to go on a roadtrip with Carol where some things change and some never will.
„Carol“ was first published under a pseudonym and with a different title, „The price of salt“. Highsmith’s publisher didn’t want to publish it because it deals explicitly with a lesbian relationship. It was eventually published by a small press under the pseudonym „Claire Morgan“ to protect Highsmith’s commercial success.
Nevertheless: It was sold nearly one million times only in 1953 when it came out. Carol filled a niche, because every other novel that talked about lesbians showed them as miserable inverts or scandalous deniers of titillating pulp fiction.
Unimaginably for 1952: Highsmith ends the novel neither with suicide nor with a cure thanks to the love of a handsome man but with a happy ending.
Highsmith was inspired by a small incident in her own life – she worked in the toy section of a department store and met a women who bought a gift for her child. Highsmith hurried home after her shift and wrote an eight-page outline of the book. She tracked the women down from the store receipt and even went to visit her. Thats where fiction and reality part though: Writers don’t have to be stalkers, they just get inspired by the real world, turn obsessions and thoughts into fiction and give us something to think about.
For a long time, Highsmith didn’t earn the praise she deserved for „Carol“, she was ahead of time and people did not want to be unsettled by the dark places of her imagination.
It was finally published under her real name by the Naiad Press in the avalanche lesbian fiction that poured out in the 80s and 90s, these other books were different though, they showed lesbians differently than Highsmith did.
Lately that has changed: Now writers demonstrate that they can write books about explorations of sexuality and gender without having to fear to be not accepted or bullied.
The book was turned into a major film by Todd Haynes starring Cate Blancett and Rooney Mara.
Inspired by the Foreword written by Val McDermid
Therese rambles a lot which makes the book quite hard to read sometimes, you have to get through pages which are boring with the thought in your head that it’ll get better. Hopefully. I though a few times about stopping to read, but maybe it would turn great on the next page. It took me about 2 months to read it because of the downs, but I carried on, waiting for the ups to come.
The first half of the book is basically just one big down, nothing really happens and its hard to get into Highsmith’s writing. It gets better when Part two starts, I didn’t have to force me to read along and I even got lost in the book one or twice.
From one line to the other the book suddenly turns 180° and the relationship between Carol and Therese isn’t the main topic anymore, it gets replaced by some kind of car chase. Therese also changes her view and opinions on something very fast and its hard to follow her thoughts sometimes.
The end is very abrupt, Therese decides something, then she changes her opinion and *happy end*. Some topics stay unclear, even though they seem pretty important to the storyline. I always expected a plot twist but because these topics weren’t clarified and resolved, that wasn’t happening.
All in all I did not like the book very much, but I’m still happy that I read it. When I told my mum, who recommended the book to me, that I’m finished, she was already on her way to get a new one for me to read but I was luckily able to stop her :D
Have you read the book? If yes, do you think the same way as me or do you have a different opinion? I would love to know!