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Carol (Movie Tie-In) (Movie Tie-in Editions) Paperback – November 9, 2015
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“A document of persecuted love―perfect.”
- The Independent
“About the pursuit of love, and true happiness…It has characters who laugh, and who laugh without scorn or illusion…very recognizably Highsmith, full of tremor and of threat and of her peculiar genius for anxiety.”
- The Sunday Times
About the Author
Patricia Highsmith (1921–1995) was the author of more than twenty novels, including Strangers on a Train, The Price of Salt, The Blunderer and The Talented Mr. Ripley, as well as numerous short stories.
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For me, reading the book and experiencing the movie are a complete package. Like two persons who belong together, words well written and images well framed can be better appreciated than partaking of one without the other.
In terms of the novel, Highsmith's prose does a wonderful job of developing its characters, particularly the character Therese who is the story's protagonist. The novel is clearly written from Therese's point of view. It is a coming-of-age story about Therese and her experiences that lead her to falling in love with an older woman, Carol, who is in the midst of getting a divorce. Carol is torn between her love for her daughter, named Rindy, and her attraction and growing romantic love for Therese that puts Carol's relationship with her young daughter at risk. It is a dark story at times fraught with immense tensions and conflicts acutely felt but forcibly suppressed by certain characters as it takes place within the early 1950s. Such is a a time when same-sex attraction was considered both pathological and criminal if acted upon, and the novel's dialogue and narrative must be seen within this repressed societal context of the day. The novel is quite revolutionary for its time, carrying a somewhat ambiguous though positive ending for the two women in love rather than the typical tragic one, and the story continues to be relevant even today. The movie, as brilliantly directed and supurbly acted by all of its cast, and with its own rich historically accurate reproduction and visualization, has a few changes to the original plot that for me, work. I would say if you read the novel before seeing the movie, you will experience the movie more as an insider who recognizes these changes as something complimentary to Highsmith's story. By watching the movie, you can appreciate having greater insight into Carol's part within the story.
All said, the novel Carol is a worthy read for anyone who wants to read a complex yet ultimately uplifting love story that happens to be between two women who do not fit into the stereotypes for lesbian relationships of any period.
The story centers around Therese, a 19-year-old aspiring set designer who suffers from a severe disconnect with the world around her and from her own identity. On the surface, she seems happy: She has a devoted boyfriend, Richard, and just got a temporary job at a department store to make some extra cash. But something’s missing from Therese’s life – something she herself can’t exactly define. (There’s a nice bit about the various ways to pronounce Therese’s name that sums up her confusion: “She was used to a dozen variations, and sometimes she herself pronounced it differently.”)
Enter Carol, a mid-30-something upper-class housewife and mother who comes across as glamorous, beautifully unattainable, and moody. After they meet in the department store where Therese works, the two feel a “sudden release, that leap of response in both of them, as if their bodies were of some material which put together inevitably created desire.”
As the first part of “The Price of Salt” traces Therese and Carol’s “will they or won’t they?” relationship and the second sends them on the lam, so to speak, on a cross-country road-trip, Highsmith’s background in crime fiction serves her well. It’s hard to tell if this is a love story or a thriller, there’s that much suspense. A shady detective, a conflicted boyfriend, and a mysterious friend from Carol's past all add to the tension.
Like the best of Highsmith's novels, "The Price of Salt" doesn't shy away from the more problematic aspects of its own story. For instance, the age difference between the main characters is mentioned a number of times. (Imagine if this novel were about a heterosexual relationship between a man in his mid-30s and a 19-year-old girl.) The novel also explores Highsmith’s preoccupation with identity and, in this case, love's apparent contradiction: even as Therese finds her true self, she loses her identity in Carol's or, as Therese reflects, "she felt like an actor, remembered only now and then her identity with a sense of surprise, as if she had been playing in these last few days the part of someone else, someone fabulously and excessively lucky" in love.
In the end, this shouldn't be categorized as a lesbian love story. It's a beautifully realized and meditative novel of one young woman finding the courage to "plunge headlong" into life and love. That's something anyone can relate to.