The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
What I like about Oscar season (now many months removed from us) is that I get to know books that I had never known existed until I see them made into movies. And then I introduce myself to authors and ideas that I enjoy. Patricia Highsmith’s elegant novel The Price of Salt, adapted to the film Carol was one such example. I still haven’t see the movie yet, but I’m very much looking forward to seeing how it turned out.
Therese Belivet is a sales assistant who really wants to work in theater design. One day, she encounters a mysterious woman at the counter and assists her briefly, haunted by her compelling and mysterious nature. So she sends her a postcard. Eventually, the woman reciprocates, and thus begins Therese’s clandestine love affair with Carol—in an era where homosexual men were criminalized and lesbians were not even considered to be a real thing (but also looked down upon). Because Carol is in the middle of a divorce and wants to retain a spot in her daughter’s life, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
Highsmith’s prose is elegant, even sensual, but it doesn’t objectify the two women in love. In other words, their relationship is not eroticized for the reader’s sake only, but it unfolds naturally and slowly, and the denouement also feels natural and realistic. In other words, she doesn’t exploit the women for the sake of titillating her readers. She upholds a sexual tension throughout the novel that I argue Nabokov wishes he could have maintained in the second half of Lolita (but I digress). I really do need to check out other Highsmith novels, because her craft here really elevates an interesting story into something artistic and unique.