As part of our ongoing TowleREAD series, we’re spending the next 10 days recommending some of the best LGBT books available on Audible.com that would make great listening or great gifts this holiday season. We begin today with Patricia Highsmith’s Carol (originally titled The Price of Salt), the film adaptation of which, directed by Todd Haynes and starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, opens in theaters today.
At first blush, Carol may seem out of step with what you know about Highsmith. Described by Stanford professor Terry Castle as “a louche and stunningly erotic McCarthy-era love story”, Carol follows a forbidden attraction that emerges between two women, isolated and alone, in 1950s New York.
A chance encounter between two lonely women leads to a passionate romance in this lesbian cult classic. Therese, a struggling young sales clerk, and Carol, a homemaker in the midst of a bitter divorce, abandon their oppressive daily routines for the freedom of the open road, where their love can blossom. But their newly discovered bliss is shattered when Carol is forced to choose between her child and her lover.
Perhaps most famous for her novels Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley (plus their film adaptations), Patricia Highsmith is synonymous with suspense. With Carol–the latest of Highsmith’s works to be adapted on film–Highsmith would combine an unabashed gay love story with the suspenseful style she had already mastered.
Published in 1952, Carol was groundbreaking for its time. While gay pulp fiction had existed previously, it was often homophobic. And Highsmith’s novel did something that no other LGBT piece of fiction had done up until that point: (WARNING: SPOILER AHEAD!–>) it gave gay characters a chance at a happy ending.
Carol was also a huge risk for Highsmith, who had gained fame with Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation of Strangers On a Train. Highsmith used the pseudonym of Carol Morgan when the book was first published to avoid deleterious attention. (She would only claim the book as her own in 1984.)
Commenting on the era in which Carol was written, Highsmith wrote, “Those were the days when gay bars were a dark door somewhere in Manhattan, where people wanting to go to a certain bar got off the subway a station before or after the convenient one, lest they were suspected of being homosexual.” Highsmith, and the characters in Carol, lived in a world where fear of detection was real.
Yet despite Highsmith’s fear, Carol was a huge success in its day. With a catchline that read, “The novel of a love society forbids”, Carol quickly sold a million copies and countless readers wrote in to “Carol Morgan” sharing how Carol’s story resonated with their own.
Castle says it best when summing up why Carol has such enduring staying power more than 60 years later. Carol proved that, “[T]here was power to be sought in being true to one’s nature…and possibly even some ecstasy along the way.”
As part of Audible’s sponsorship of TowleREAD, our Towleroad reading series, Audible is offering a free download of Patricia Highsmith’s Carol at Audible.com with a 30-Day Trial membership for Towleroad readers.
Listen to an excerpt from Carol, below:
Carol was originally published on Blackstone Audio.