What has Patricia Highsmith's Carol to say about love?

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Answered by: Michelle, An Expert in the Reviews of Books Category
There comes a time in life when one finds a story that is so extraordinary in its every day humanity and earthliness that it takes your breath away with a single blow.

That's exactly the case with 'Carol', a book by Patricia Highsmith. Highsmith might be better known for her work in crime and suspense narrative, but 'Carol', with its sweetness and sensuality, might in fact be the true masterpiece.

'Carol' tells the journey of its namesake, a beautiful, glamorous woman living in New York during the fifties. While Carol struggles with a divorce and a fierce custody battle for her daughter, fate introduces her to Therese Belivet, naïve, inexperienced, tender, scared Therese Belivet, an aspiring set designer with a temporary job at a department store during the Christmas season. Their eyes meet, a few words are exchanged, and there's no going back.

Upon meeting Therese, Carol opens an infinite well of feelings and desires she'd thought long defeated. It is here that conflict is unleashed in every single way, and we become witnesses to the struggle of two human beings defending their right to love. In 1952, the year this book was published, love such as the one between Carol and Therese was classified by the American Psychiatric Association as a mental illness, and even though sixty years later we have definitely come a long way from that, their battle still doesn't sound quite as unfamiliar.

'Carol' is, in its purest essence and its truest nature, a love story. Nothing matters but the unleashing of affection between Carol and Therese, whose strength might at first catch the reader off-guard but which eventually will reveal them nothing but a reflection of their own selves.

In 'Carol', Patricia Highsmith builds her characters with precision that is almost terrifying. Her storytelling never fails to transport the reader to the exact moment she's narrating: the intensity of Therese's longing, the first look, the first word between the women, the painful desperation, the crash and hopelessness but, most importantly, the relentless search for one's true fulfillment and the meaning of one's own happiness.

Highsmith's main characters are drawn in such a way that they come across as unique and completely relatable at the same time. Therese is suddenly all of us. She's an ingenue taking her first steps through life, and most importantly, she's a human being falling in love for the first time. And haven't all we been there? 'Carol' is both a lesson and a memory, a spot-on enunciation of what it means to love and be loved.

When it comes to 'Carol', Patricia Highsmith knows with delicate intimacy the story she wants to tell. For 'Carol' is in fact a quasi autobiographical book, a summary of Highsmith's constant falls in and out of love and a sort of escape route for all the things left unsaid. The extremely personal side that Highsmith pours into 'Carol' is precisely what makes the story so compelling and irresistible: one feels that one might be watching something far too dear to someone else's heart, and it's precisely that step that goes too far into grabbing a heart and a soul and baring them completely before the reader, what makes 'Carol' a classic and one of the greatest stories to mark several generations of people in love.

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