Friday, 15 April 2016

Carol (originally The Price of Salt) by Patricia Highsmith

ReviewerJJ Marsh (of audiobook narrated by Laurel Lefkow)

What we thought: An unusual and unpredictable love story and road trip rolled into one, which sheds light on the atmosphere and attitudes of 1950s America.

Therese grew up in an orphanage, but she is no orphan. Her mother gave her away. Now she’s in her early twenties in New York, trying to make her way as a stage designer. To make ends meet, she takes a job in a department store, in the toy department. One day, an older woman comes in – Carol – and Therese’s life changes with one look.

This story of obsessive love is intense, slow-paced and with an extraordinary amount of detail: glances, moods, cigarettes, drinks and conversations. Tension increases throughout, lending an almost thriller-like quality to the story as the two women try to outrun a private investigator. Carol’s ex-husband, determined to gain exclusive custody of their daughter, is paying the man to find evidence of an ‘unnatural’ relationship.

So much about this book is an immersive experience. The trip across the Midwestern states, the social and economic feel of post-war America and the dizzying sensation of falling hopelessly in love is all conveyed with delicate detail through Therese’s passionate voice.

This is a book to savour, whose characters behave with all the irrationality of typical human beings – displaying egotism, jealousy, selfishness, cynicism, joy and love. A classic Highsmith.

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, Thelma and Louise, Flannery O’Connor.

Avoid if you don’t like: Lesbian love stories, slow pace, smoking.

Ideal accompaniments: A Tom Collins in a highball glass, salted pretzels and a torch song playing from the radio of a Buick convertible.

Available from Amazon

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