Notes: Additional Physical Form: Also available on microfilm from the Library of Congress, Photoduplication Service. Dates or Sequential Designation: Began in 1844. Dates or Sequential Designation: -a.
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It’s original title was The Price of Salt and that’s what some editions in the US still call it. In Australia and the UK it’s called Carol.
That’s how I think of it because that’s the edition I first read and fell in love with in my early twenties. This is the first book we’ve discussed that one of us knows really well. I’m a huge Highsmith fan. Have read everything she’s published as well as all the biographies and memoirs of her I can find. So this discussion is a little different from the previous ones.
Because the book was originally published as a hardcover but did not take off until the paperback edition came out. I thought it would be fun for you to see the different covers.
Quite the difference, eh? From what I’ve been able to figure out it was that second version that sold the most copies. At least one of the dates in the image bleow is wrong.
The hardcover version of Price of Salt was first published in 1. Note: in the discussion below my information about the original publication of the book and how many copies it sold comes from Patricia Highsmith’s 1.
She says almost a million copies. As you can see some of the paperback covers above claim only half a million. One last thing: apparently Todd Haynes is currently directing Cate Blanchett in a movie version to be called Carol. For the discussion on Twitter we’ll be using the hashtag #BWFBC. You can also join the conversation in the comments below.
If you haven’t read Price of Salt/Carol yet there are many spoilers below. And here at last is our take on this bloody brilliant book: JL: This is my third or fourth read so I’d really like to hear your take on it first. Very curious to know what you thought.
KE: I’m about a third through. I think it is quite well written.
And I’m really impressed by how she captures Therese’s stunned attraction. Also, something about Highsmith’s point of view is so interesting to me and I’m not sure I can put my finger on it. Maybe because the situation doesn’t feel as desperate as some of the other books where we can tell from the subject matter and the tone that a dire fate awaits the women characters. This isn’t precisely a comedy, but it is a book in which there is a fragile sense that a woman can contribute to her own destiny? That she has a hope of happiness and success of a kind? Does that make sense?
I’m enjoying it. The initial phone call exchange where Carol rings up and realizes who it is who called her is brilliant. JL: Yes to all of that. Except that I think Highsmith is a genius and her writing perfect. The pov is deeply strange. It verges on omniscient. The description of Therese’s desire, love, obsession is remarkable. Every time I read it I.
WHY AREN’T YOU BOTH KISSING ALREADY?! And I do mean kissing. They barely so much as hold hands for most of the book.
Sexual tension = this book. I can’t help thinking how disappointed the 1. No wonder it was an underground hit. Have you finished yet? Didn’t want to write more of my thought until you. I’m struck by how in every single novel we’ve looked at there’s a guy who will not take no for an answer and who pathologises the woman for her refusal to marry him/be with him. KE: Yes. Richard doesn’t seem bad at first but then it turns out he’s awful.
Dannie is better because of he isn’t bothered (seemingly) by the revelation that Therese has had an affair with Carol, and because he genuinely does seem like a person who will not demand. The man who won’t take no for an answer is a familiar and comfortable trope, still present today in guises that make such a man seem worthy and attractive, but in all these novels the writers simply skewer that notion.
JL: It’s lovely to see that revulsion at that guy is not a recent development. He’s been loathed for much longer than either of us has been alive.
Now if only we could get him to go away forever. I just reread Malinda Lo’s review of the book. I was really struck by how weird I found it that she saw it as a love at first sight novel. I didn’t read it that way at all.
I mean Carol doesn’t even realise that it was Therese at first she thought it was some guy who served her that day. Carol pretty clearly isn’t immediately attracted to Therese it’s more of a slow burn.
The falling in love is even a slower burn. I feel like Carole doesn’t even take Therese seriously until she realises that she’s a set designer. Therese is very much attracted straight away. But that’s not love at first sight that’s lust at first sight which I’ve never found hard to buy at all. Your thoughts? KE: I absolutely read it as Therese falling in love at first sight. Carol feels the attraction but, I think, is mature and experienced enough to be amused by it because she knows what it is.
But I simply can’t agree that it is lust at first sight. JL: Wow. I think I have a totally different understanding of what love at first sight as a narrative device is compared to you and Malinda. Because I really disagree. I’ve always seen it at as something that happens to both in the pairing—a la Twilight or Tristan and Isolde. They might struggle against it but they both feel it. A narrative in which only one person is into the other is not a love at first sight narrative. Carol definitely does not feel it.
She doesn’t even remember who Therese is at first and if Therese hadn’t contacted her Carol would never have thought of her again. Therese feels an attraction—I think it’s lust—that she doesn’t quite make sense of until she sees Carol a few more times. But, yeah, I think her immediate attraction to Carol is physical. And that she lets herself understand it as something more romantic because she doesn’t quite have the means to understand being attracted to a woman. It’s part of what she tries to talk to idiot Richard about when she asks him if he’s ever been attracted to a man.
So, yeah, I definitely feel the attraction is instant but the love comes later. I don’t read Therese as truly being in love with Carol or even truly understanding Carol until the very end of the novel when she’s wowed by Carol’s bravery in deciding to be with Therese even though it means she’s going to lose her daughter. One of the many things I adore about this novel is that it shows the reader Therese and Carol getting to know each other fairly slowly and falling in love fairly slowly. Therese learns that Carol is not, in fact, who she thought she was.
KE: Therese is so sure of herself and how these feelings permeate her. I think it’s beautifully written in capturing the sense of floating and surety. The power of the emotion that hits her is so strong that she simply accepts it in a way that might typically be written in a heterosexual romance of the time (and still today). There’s no agonizing forr her, it’s Cupid’s arrow straight between the eyes. Although over the course of the novel Therese slowly comes to realize what it means for her and Carol in terms of society’s disapprobation and the real threat it poses to both of them for different reasons.
JL: Here we can agree. And it’s a huge part of why it sold almost a million copies in paperback and caused so many lesbians and gay men to write to Highsmith about the novel. Here was a story where a woman falls in love with another woman without believing that she’s deranged or infantile or any of the things that awful Richard acuses her of being. Here’s a story in which the lovers get to be together at the end. KE: So, yes, put me firmly in the love at first sight camp. Carol’s is a slower burn but I read that in part as caution and, as you say, in part that at first she seems to find Therese more amusing (and maybe a little flattering) than anything.(Very true about Cupid. My bad.)JL: If she’s a slow burner than how on earth is it love at first sight?!
I read it as Carol being depressed. Her ex is awful, she’s just broken up with her best friend, her daughter’s with her awful ex, she has a housekeeper she doesn’t trust, she has no job to distract her. So, yes, as you say she’s enjoying the flattery of Therese’s crush on her but doesn’t take it seriously beyond that. She’s certainly not imagining them living together. Pretty much until they go on the road trip Carol tries to encourage Therese to stick with her odious boyfriend.
KE: The set design does change Carol’s view of her. I wonder if you have any thoughts in how Carol reacts (with the negative criticism)? It could be seen as a compliment (I’m being honest) or as a little more passive aggressive. It’s interesting though.
JL: For me that’s the first moment Carol starts to really see Therese and not just the flattery of this pretty young thing having a crush on her. I read her criticism as part of Carol’s general discomfort. Carol’s up against so much that she’s not talking about.
Two break ups in a row. She’s constantly kind of on edge and irritable and I see the picking at Therese’s designs as another part of that. She spends a lot of time trying to push Therese away. And there’s a lot of weirdness around her break up with Abby and Abby’s interaction with Therese. I also think she’s a bit freaked out by her growing feelings for Therese and the ramifications for Carol.
She is, as you say, much more aware of the consequences of being a lesbian in the 1. USA than Therese is.
I’m coming out of YA where there’s a metric tonne of love at first sight in the sense I mean it. In the fairy tale sense. And YA is where Malinda is from as well which is how I read her as responding to the book: “Oh, God, not that awful trope again.” Whereas I think this novel is SO not that trope. However, I still don’t see Therese as instantly in love. Intrigued and crushing, yes. I also see a very slight amount of omniscience in the narrator. Through those eyes I feel like the novel is very lightly mocking—mocking is too strong a word—Therese’s growing obsession with Carol.
But there’s a definite feel of someone much older telling the tale of this nineteen year old’s first real experience with love. KE: If you are defining “love at first sight” as necessarily mutual, then no it isn’t.