Tuesday 15 March 2016

Carol by Patricia Highsmith

Usually, I prefer to read the book before I see the movie, but in this case, our long hot summer got the better of my good intentions.

I recently escaped the heat by watching Brooklyn and Carol back to back in our local cinema.

Both movies were fabulous for very different reasons and I came away determined to read both books as soon as possible. I decided to use this experience to test the movie-before-the-book theory.

It has taken me a month to get both books read but I can now confidently say that I preferred the movie of Brooklyn a little more than the book.

I engaged with the movie characters far more than I did with their book versions and I experienced a wider range of emotions. The book, of course, had more detail and back story which was interesting, but the movie had a heart and soul that won me over in the end.

The movie of Carol was tremendous and very moving, but quite different from the book which made the reading experience almost like discovering the story anew.

Carol was a good title choice for the movie because it really was all about Carol. Carol as observed by Therese (and us). Perhaps this evolved during the filming thanks to Cate Blanchett's portrayal of Carol. Blanchett is such a dominating presence on screen, that like Therese, we're a little in awe of her splendidness.

In the movie we never really feel like we get into or under Therese's skin. There's a vague sense of Carol as the older, experienced cougar-like woman seducing the younger, innocent ingenue. The movie really delved into the devastating impact of Carol's sexual choices. The happy ending came at a very high cost.

The book, originally titled The Price of Salt in 1952 and published under a pseudonym, showed us a much more informed and nuanced Therese. She was clearly very aware of how she was feeling and what she was hoping for with Carol. She gained several personal insights along the way about why she had such a strong fascination for the older, glamorous woman.

The ending of the book, was not only a happy one, but one that allowed the reader to see that the new relationship forged by Carol and Therese would be one based on a more equal footing. It was actually Therese's coming-of-age story.

This theme was reinforced by Highsmith's choice of reading material for Therese when she first visited Carol - James Joyce's Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man.
Goodreads tells us that:

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man represents the transitional stage between the realism of Joyce's Dubliners and the symbolism of Ulysses, and is essential to the understanding of the later work.
The novel is a highly autobiographical account of the adolescence and youth of Stephen Dedalus, who reappears in Ulysses, and who comes to realize that before he can become a true artist, he must rid himself of the stultifying effects of the religion, politics and essential bigotry of his background in late 19th century Ireland.

This was obviously an important clue about Therese that Highsmith left for her readers to tease out for themselves.

Carol turned out to be one of those rare cases where the book and movie were both fascinating but for rather different reasons.


  1. Anonymous16/3/16

    I have never read Patricia Highsmith I don't know why. I wonder which of hers it would be best to start with.

    1. This was my first Highsmith too. Her writing style was easy to read and engaging, so I suspect that any of her books would be easy to get into and enjoyable in their own way. Her bio blurb said she didn't like being constrained by genre boundaries which could make for interesting reading :-)

    2. This was my first Highsmith as well and I do want to read more. I came across this article, which might help as a jumping off point: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/tip-sheet/article/63724-10-best-patricia-highsmith-books.html

  2. Wonderful assessment of Therese's character. It really is a coming of age novel. I hope to watch the movie this weekend. Haven't yet read or seen Brooklyn, but the trailer I saw looked beautiful.


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