I’ve not seen Carol, the Cate Blanchett/Rooney Mara film adapatation of this novel, but I can see how beautifully this work would translate to film, especially in the hands of Blanchett. She is perfect for the role of Carol, a rather cool and collected wealthy suburbanite. Carol becomes the singular romantic focus of Therese, a very young aspiring NYC set designer, after a brief meeting in the toy department of the store where Therese works. The relationship between Therese and Carol develops slowly, until Therese accompanies Carol on a trip out west. Of course, this being the 1950s, a lesbian relationship is dangerous, even more so for Carol who is going through a divorce and battling for custody of her young daughter.
I was somewhat hampered by my knowledge of the film, as I kept feeling myself pull away from the novel to think about how well Highsmith’s tone would translate to the big screen. The cars, the cocktails, the private meaningful glances at restaurants, the telegrams in hotel lobbies, and the haze of cigarette smoke above all…the scene is perfectly set.
The significance of this novel being published in 1952 was never lost on me, either. It had to be very risky at the time, and the subject matter must have been considered salacious. This is where my appreciation for the work and my enjoyment of the work starts to part ways. Reading this in 2016 doesn’t feel terribly groundbreaking, and thank God for that!
In 2016, I read this as any other love story…older married person falls for younger person, drama ensues. In that context, I became hung up on the character, not the context. And I found Therese to be selfish (she is 20, maybe it’s to be expected), and rather aloof about the damage her all-encompassing love causes to her former boyfriend Richard, her career, and Carol’s family. I was particularly affronted by Therese’s thoughts that Carol should choose her over her own daughter. It seemed to diminish Carol’s pain and impossible situation.
I’m left with appreciation for this novel, though I can’t say I particularly enjoyed it. This has been one of the harder reviews to write as I don’t wish to take away from what I know is a very well-written novel. It just wasn’t really my cup of tea.