My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Patricia Highsmith has written a thought provoking love story between two women. The novel is written in Highsmith’s usual spare writing style and the plot takes a few chapters to unravel but I would advise readers to persist. It does become more engaging and it’s not a long book.
I found several aspects of this book interesting. First, It’s young Therese, barely out of her teens, who pursues the older, sophisticated woman despite Carol’s initial misgivings. Second, throughout the novel Therese is unwavering in her belief that her love for Carol is not “an abomination” or shameful. She is openly affectionate towards Carol in public until Carol warns her not to be. Therese cannot understand why they should care about how society views their love. She even asks her boyfriend if he has ever been in love with a man, which means he works out the nature of her relationship with Carol fairly quickly. Interestingly, he initially dismisses her infatuation as a “schoolgirl crush” that Therese will overcome.
Of course, Therese’s and Carol’s love affair will not go unpunished in 1950’s America. Carol’s estranged husband uses their affair to extract a devastating revenge. Some reviewers have commented that this story has a happy ending- which it does for Therese. Carol, as a mother, pays a much higher price for her “little bit of salt” than her younger partner.
This is a masterful book peopled with complex and imperfect characters who struggle to find happiness in an equally complex and imperfect world.