I have been off and on a bio of Highsmith: Beautiful Shadow – A Life Of Patricia Highsmith, by Andrew Wilson, in which there is an anecdote of Highsmith that I could not get over it:
During her late 20s, Highsmith was troubled by her sexuality and she sincerely wanted to fix it, because she wanted to marry a man who deeply loved her. So she underwent a therapy, believed it would eventually convert her to heterosexual. Since the therapy was extremely expensive, she had to take another job in a toy store to catch up with bills. It was in that store she met a female customer, who inspired her to write her second novel Price Of Salt (also published as Carol in later editions) – one of (or the only one) greatest romance books about lesbians relationship, or any love relationship!
After being so thrilled by the ending of Price of Salt, I could not help to go back reading it again, mainly the beginning, where I thought it was slow and boring. Oh it must be I who was slow and bored, because this time I found it enchanting and necessary, so necessary that only after we read all those passages could we be prepared properly for the arrival of Carol – “an amalgamation of all qualities Highsmith admired in a woman” (Beautiful Shadow – A Life Of Patricia Highsmith, Andrew Wilson).
I found Highsmith’s work is like an attractive person in unattractive outfits, the more you know this person, the more you find his/her irresistible charm. Usually I had to keep reading her books until quite late to find that “impossible to put down” feeling, and Price of Salt is especially the case. The first 10% doesn’t even seem relevant to the story. I actually read 5% last year and quit, simply because the boring details of “nothingness”. This time I decided to just “have a taste”, ignore her “unattractive dress” (yes, I skipped over lots of trivial details), then, I found something that not only need to be tasted, but to be chewed, swallowed and digested.
The story is about a 19 year-old girl Therese, who come from a loveless family, who is a “newbie” in adult life and romance, falls in love with Carol, a woman who is over 10 years her senior, who is experienced, sophisticated and goddess-like. The beginning of book is very slow, but story picks its pace when Carol enters the scene. How they know each other and starts dating, how they fall in love, and how their love develops is totally absorbing (I had to go through that pain and sweetness all over again!). And the ending – what an unexpected sublimation!
Though the book is above love between two women, it really is about human passion in general – the intensity and vulnerability of it; the pain and sweetness of it; and the rebirth after the pain. The forbidden part certainly adds extra spices to it. Highsmith’s writing style is plain, masculine, even painfully meticulous sometime. I often found myself impatient in dealing with some details she engaged into (maybe just me!), however, when she wrote the emotion, the affection of the main character Therese (who I believe is based on author herself), I found I did not want to skip one word, because her plain style makes each word weighs like a mountain!
The movie based on this book – “Carol” will be out this year (2015). I am so glad another masterpiece of hers going to screen, because Highsmith really deserve better!