Are There Lesbians? Yes
Aspiring set designer, Therese Belivet is working in a department store at Christmas where she meets the entrancing Carol Aird. Therese quickly becomes obsessed with Carol who is busily embroiled in her own problems – an impending divorce and limited access to her daughter. On an extended road-trip across the US the two become more intimate and declare love their for one another but the appearance of a private investigator forces them back to reality where Carol must make a choice – Her daughter or her lover?
I identified with Therese almost immediately, possibly because I too am gay and trapped in the endless sucking void that is retail, that eternal occupation that laughs in the face of entropy, but also because Patricia Highsmith’s writing is entrancing. It reaches into the very depths of your soul and creates meaning there. Her characters are complex and feel incredibly real, with all the strange and unexplained turns of emotion and attitude that humans have. This is particularly evident in Carol’s character – I spend quite a lot of time trying to figure out whether or not she even liked Therese. After thinking about it however I came to the conclusion that while Carol does outright say she loves Therese, as she is older (Therese is 19 whereas Carol is 30), she is more world-weary and conscious of both reputation and the responsibilities she has to other people. Thus her hot/cold attitude towards Therese begins to make more sense when you remember that she not only has a daughter to think about, but knows much better the discrimination facing an openly homosexual person in the fifties.
I have to admit I spent most of Carol – especially the road trip – waiting for something to go horribly, horribly wrong. And it didn’t! So read this because no-one dies, if nothing else. Instead, the best way to describe the ending is bittersweet, although that isn’t quite right. Simply put, it is the best way that Carol could have ended, no other way would have made sense or been in character. It was perfect in every conceivable way and after reading the final paragraph I spent my train home trying desperately not to cry (and failing rather spectacularly). I can’t wait to see how Carol translates to film.
If I am honest I don’t really know if I can properly articulate why it is that Carol sparked such strong feelings in me as it has. I love this book but if asked why am unable to provide a concise list of reasons. Are good writing and a main character I identify with enough? Perhaps this is a book that it would be better to let speak for itself, and make sure to read the author’s acknowledgements – they are just as entertaining as the novel itself, perhaps even more so because they are truth.