Readers may know Patricia Highsmith for her novels The Talented Mr. Ripley or Strangers on a Train. This work, The Price of Salt, was made into a movie called Carol. It starred Cate Blanchett.
I would never have read this book had I not been taking a course on Women in Literature this semester. It took me quite a while to engage with this one but, once that happened, I very much wanted to know what would happen to protagonist, Therese. It is a tribute to reading for a class as I came to appreciate this book based on class discussion and a closer look at themes and motifs.
Highsmith published The Price of Salt in 1952 using a pseudonym. According to my professor it was the first road novel having been published before Kerouac. It also reportedly influenced Nabokov in writing Lolita.
I put up two covers to give a sense of how the novel was marketed. It was about a lesbian relationship, hence the more salacious looking cover of the two.
Therese is a young woman who is adrift. She was placed in an orphanage by her mother and rarely had contact with her following this. Therese has a boyfriend, wants to be a set designer and takes a temporary job in a department store.
One day, Therese waits on Carol who is buying accessories for her daughter’s doll. Carol is an unhappily married suburbanite. What happens to these two when they experience an attraction that was not one that could easily be publicly acknowledged at the time?
The early chapters of this book felt deeply oppressive to me. I found some of the characters kind of creepy. Therese for her part feels as untethered as the kite that she and boyfriend Richard fly. Things slowly change for Therese who grows into herself over the course of the story.
Read this thinking about locations (closed and contained like the department store, the city, suburbs, the way west). Also think about gifts, dresses, loss, relationships and more.
This is a book that is best read with a chance to discuss it. Those interested in a very early novel about lesbian relationships and those who are Highsmith fans may want to read this. If you do, I am so eager to know your thoughts on the novel.