Marthese reviews Carol by Patricia Highsmith

”How would the world come to life? How would its salt come back?”

Finally read this classic! Carol, originally published as The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith in 1952, was written in the late 40s, taking some inspiration from Patricia Highsmith’s real life and running away with it.

The story is about Therese, a young woman who at first works in retail but is hoping to get jobs as a set designer. She’s currently dating Richard but she does not love him and he knows it. Therese grows a lot during the story and becomes less awkward, but first, she has a few existential crises. One day, during the Christmas rush, she helps Carol select a gift for her daughter, Rindy. Carol has grey eyes and poise and Therese is immediately taken with her. They meet again and begin a friendship that is obvious where it will lead, although there is some resistance.

This book is often described as the first lesbian story with a happy ending. I’m not sure whether the story could be said to be happy – because for sure there are scars – but Therese and Carol are true to themselves. It is also a realistic description of the time and feelings.

Since this book was made into a movie, many may know the story, so I will focus on themes and elements within the book.

One of the things that immediately struck me was all the descriptions of things that are seen. It made for visual and captivating prose. Highsmith also describes emotions vividly.

The character of Therese is introspective. As I mentioned, she has existential crisises. They are not about her sexuality mostly – she’s never been in love and she immediately makes a connection – they are about her work and the place she has in life. This is something that everyone can relate with. Although she starts of as really insecure, she doesn’t have a problem saying ‘no’ to things she doesn’t like! I could also relate to her because she pushed a lot of people out of her life when she needed a change – she knows when a goodbye is a goodbye.

How males interacted with her was also interesting. At first, Phil and Dannie (her boyfriend Richard’s friends) ignore her and it seems like she gets jobs because of her connection with Richard. However, she managed to become friendly with them and she also gets jobs based on her connections.

The character of Richard was also interesting. At first, although I didn’t like him, I pitied him. He and Terry also appeared to at least have a good friendship when they laughed, but as time went on, he become more bitter and more sexist, using the ‘but I’m a nice guy’ and ‘you’ll change’, he gaslighted her and threatening to expose Terry. These are pretty common tropes, but it was done well, and keeping in mind when it was written, I cannot help but feel that on many accounts, Highsmith was a pioneer and beyond her time.

Carol’s character I can imagine as being very poised and having a ‘resting bitch face’ that hid her emotions. She does care a lot but never begs too much and her voice and expressions are usually controlled. She is also very direct and is not afraid to criticize. Although there was hesitation at first and a few misunderstandings when problems escalated, these two know how to maturely communicate! One thing that I noticed, is that Carol seems to be depressed: ”Carol was happy only at moments” (page 168).

As with regards to gender, I believe that this book was really progressive. It humanized a lot and voiced a lot of probably unpopular opinions. One thing that bothered me a bit was the use of ‘men’ vs ‘girls’ rather than ‘women’, something which is still done today.

It also offers a complex view of sexuality. For example, at one point, sleeping with the same people is described as a habit. Carol also has loved Harge, the husband she’s getting a divorce from and also another female before Therese. And although Therese did not love Richard, she seems attracted to another man for a while. There are no explicit sex scenes, but there are allusions to a good night!

This book is a historical fiction, but it was written in the same time (so at the time, it was a contemporary read). This was really felt. It was, for example, really interesting to see how humans interacted with so little technology. People used to amuse each other, go out to eat, go for car drives and talk, and so on. We still do it, but it had a different vibe to it.

I would recommend to read this book especially at this time. The story starts before Christmas and although it’s not really a ‘Christmas/Holiday read’ because it goes beyond the holidays, there is still a holiday feeling with shopping, presents, and celebrations. This book is a classic because so many of the themes are applicable today, so many of the emotions felt we can nod to.

One question that I have after reading the book is…how many hotels did these two pay for and not stay in? I hope they managed to get a refund! Time to watch the movie now! I still haven’t…


Kathryn Hoss Recommends Lesbian Beach Reads

Every summer my entire obnoxious/lovable extended family rents a beach house in the Carolinas for a week, and every summer I end up scouring Goodreads, Amazon, and the Lesbrary for “lesbian beach reads.” Usually, that phrase yields zero-to-few results.

I’m here to change that.

funhomemusical   unbearable lightness portia de rossi   PriceofSalt   FriedGreenTomatoes   the-miseducation-of-cameron-post-cover-final

Looking for a juicy tell-all for the drive down?
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel is one of my all-time favorites. The graphic memoir explores Bechdel’s fraught relationship with her closeted gay, perfectionist father and his unexpected suicide. Despite the subject matter, Bechdel’s tone is more thoughtful than ruminating, probing for the truth in a situation with many sides. As someone who was a baby butch at one time, it was a breath of fresh air to see myself reflected in child- and college-Alison. This read can be accomplished in a few hours.
Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi is another quick read, but it is not light. The memoir recounts de Rossi’s lengthy struggle with bulimia and anorexia, her journey from rock bottom, when her organs nearly shut down, to a very nice life with Ellen Degeneres and their horses. I will say it brought back eating-disordered feelings from adolescence that I didn’t know I still had– de Rossi’s devastating internal monologues can be triggering– but it’s an important story and an engrossing read.

The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith might be the perfect road-trip story, straddling the line between pulp novel and classic literature. You’ve probably already seen the 2015 movie, Carol, but I’m gonna say the book is worth reading too. Highsmith’s prose tends to maunder in details that I thought not at all necessary to plot or characterization, but I found it interesting on an anthropological level to see Therese and Carol’s relationship unfold in 1952. Elements of the story are lifted straight out of Highsmith and her friends’ lives, adding to the realism. For the romance crowd, if you like the “Oh no, there’s only one bed and we have to share it!” trope, you’re gonna love this.

Looking for something profound so that when your relatives ask what you’re reading, you don’t have to feel ashamed?
I actually haven’t finished Fried Green Tomatoes by Fanny Flagg, only because the prose lends itself to be read slow as molasses. There is definitely a lot in this book that would not be considered politically correct. I don’t know how many times I’ve thought, “Is this a White Savior narrative?” The romance is also only one thread in a rich tapestry of family and food. But Fried Green Tomatoes feeds my soul because it depicts a lesbian-headed family living in the south, in the 20s and 30s, and no one ever says a word about them being different or wrong. I actually tried fried green tomatoes (the food) the other day. Spoiler alert: They were delicious.

I was going to do a separate YA section, but then I was like, nah. The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth is Literature. Set in small-town Montana in a fully-fleshed out fictional city, The Miseducation is so hyperreal, I kept thinking, “This has to be autobiographical, right? No way someone could make up that much detail.” And yet, danforth did. Right down to watching the girl you like skid her flip flop a little too far away and lunge to pick it up with her toes. A bittersweet story of parental mortality, thwarted teenage love, and coming of age, I couldn’t bring myself to read this one on the beach because it made me feel like my heart was in my throat.

secondmangocover   LoveDevoursbySarahDiemer   ClimbingtheDatePalm-200x300   BrandedAnn   olive conspiracy

Looking for adventure, romance, and fantasy all rolled into one beautiful escapist mess?

Not gonna lie– this is what I consider a Certified Lesbian Beach Read. Sitting ankle-deep in the surf with wind sand-blasting my face and the sun encroaching ever-closer to my beergarita, I’m not exactly looking to think too hard. I want to see some salty pirate pansexuals, some transcendentally beautiful trans mermaids, and some lesbian ladies in full 16th-century attire making out on a tropical island.

First off, I can recommend Love Devours: Tales of Monstrous Adoration by Sarah Diemer. You can download “The Witch Sea” for free on Amazon separately, but my favorite story in this collection is “Seek.” I don’t want to give too much away, but I’ll say this: Mysterious sea woman. Girl-knight seeking to win the hand of a beautiful princess. Sultry enchantress. Intrigue! Also check out The Monstrous Sea by Sarah and Jennifer Diemer for its trans girl YA mermaid story, “True if By Sea.”

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention The Second Mango by our own Shira Glassman for its lesbian princess, her woman-knight BFF, her bisexual long-lost love, and the tropical, vaguely Floridian setting in which they frolic.

Finally, Branded Ann by Merry Shannon was a recent standout, well-plotted with a careful balance of romance and adventure. This is the lesbian Pirates of the Caribbean– a search for lost treasure, threats of mutiny, mayyyyybe some kind of supernatural being?? I also came away feeling like I learned something about 16th century piracy, all while enjoying sizzling hot sexual tension. My only gripe is the character description. I felt like had no idea what most of the characters looked like, except the two main characters, who were described in frequent and florid detail. Still, this was all I ever wanted, all I ever needed in a pirate romance novel. (This one comes with a trigger warning for sexual assault mentions.)

What are your favorite LBT beach reads? Let me know on the Goodreads list! (https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/100656.Lesbian_Beach_Reads)

Kathryn Hoss is an aspiring author and singer-songwriter from Ohio. She can be found at kathrynhoss.tumblr.com.

Guest Lesbrarian Orange Sorbet reviews Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith

When this novel was published in 1952, it was Controversial with the Capital and thus, naturally, immensely popular. Patricia Highsmith – apparently a pretty renowned author but not a particularly likable personality – wrote it under the pseudonym “Claire Morgan” and denied having anything to do with the book until much later on in life, when it was revealed that it was based extensively on her own personal experiences. It’s toted as dark and mysterious, and said to bear uncanny resemblance to Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita – and it came first. Recipe for a perfect lesbian-themed book? I thought so.

Here’s the catch: I read it in 2010-2011 (seriously, I read it over New Year’s Eve), not 1952. I liked the book but I wasn’t enamoured by it.

…while we’re talking about enamour, though, let’s get to the good stuff first:

Carol kissed her on the lips, and pleasure leaped in Therese again. […] Her arms were tight around Carol, and she was conscious of Carol and nothing else. And then her body too seemed to vanish in widening circles that leaped further and further, beyond where thought could follow.

(I have to admit I didn’t choose this excerpt on my own – usually I would, but I’ve returned the book to the library so I just googled this.) Highsmith’s prose is powerful and elegant and I don’t only mean this in reference to the lovemaking scenes like above; I particularly liked her descriptions of the setting and the general feel of the book. New York in 2011 is charismatic and alluring, but New York in 1952 is downright sexy.

What I felt was lacking was character development, which is a pretty key element in any book but especially one that’s centred on just two individuals. (I know this sounds somewhat contradictory, but you can have powerful prose without similarly powerful plot progression, as anyone who’s read the original Frankenstein can attest to.) The premise of the characters is interesting enough – inexperienced but already cynical 19-year-old paired with a tired but not quite jaded middle-aged woman – and as I pieced together bits of their stories throughout the book it’s evident that they aren’t your usual lesbian clichés, but at no point did either Therese or Carol become real to me. I was especially frustrated by the lack of build-up to their relationship, because while I could understand (somewhat) why they’d be attracted to each other based on their lots in life, I felt like it was more my own filling-in-the-blanks rather than a narrative that was presented to me. I figure more emotional aspects of their story might have been glossed over in consideration of the era in which the book was written, maybe, because it is not altogether uncommon for characters in books of yesteryear to fall in love for no discernible reason. Nonetheless, I can’t say I didn’t care for the characters: I interrupted my pseudo-New Year’s celebrations to “see if my lesbians get a happy ending.” (Chances are if you’ve read about this book anywhere you’ll know the answer to this, but I didn’t and I try my best to write spoiler-free reviews so I won’t give it away.)

I have to admit that at the end of it, I’m still left in the dark as to why the book is called The Price of Salt. I know it’s mentioned a couple of times in the book but there appears to be no significant meaning to it and I can’t find a satisfactory explanation online either. (The actual price of salt, by the way, is not as easy to determine as you’d think.) This was, to me, quite a waste because it’s an intriguing title and it’s a big part of the reason I chose to read this book.

By way of coming-of-age lesbian novels, I’d still say that Sarah Waters’ Tipping the Velvet takes the cake and then some but The Price of Salt is still an interesting piece in its own right. You’d also have to take my opinion with a heap of salt here because I haven’t actually read that many coming-of-age lesbian novels. This book would probably be better appreciated if actually read in the 20th century as intended, but there’s nothing any of us can do about that eh?

Thank you so much for the review, Orange Sorbet! You can find Orange Sorbet’s blog here, and the original post of this review here.

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