Jan 2021 LGBTQ+ Book Club – Carol by Patricia Highsmith

Our LGBTQ+ Book Club is back and raring to go! We hadn’t stopped but we had a period where we intermittently did them rather than once a month. However, we have planned and organised and we are ready and very excited to be back in the swing of things. Last month we read Carol by Patricia Highsmith – keep reading to find out what we spoke about as well as what we are reading for our February meeting! Anyone is welcome to join us.

Carol is told from the point of view of Therese, a young woman who falls in love with the titular Carol, a married mother who is a decade her senior. It’s set in 1950s America, which is also the time it was written (though it was initially published under a pen name). Therese is figuring out herself throughout the book – what she wants, what she doesn’t want, who she wants to be. It follows her personal journey and her journey with Carol, from friendship to lovers. I personally haven’t read much sapphic fiction which isn’t contemporary so I was really looking forward to reading it for our Book Club. It was also a perfect book to read over December and January as that’s when it’s set!

The group were quite split in opinions on this one! Some were not a fan of the writing style and didn’t like how some scenes felt unfinished before we leapt into another. Some found it slow going and like not much happened in the first half – it does take a bit to get into. We felt the yearning Therese had for Carol and appreciated that she felt so certain about her feelings. Though she wasn’t super open about it (completely understandable, especially considering when this story is set) she was also quite confident that she did love Carol and didn’t have an issue with it in herself.

Others in the group enjoyed how the relationship was portrayed between the two women – though rocky at times, the book ended with a bittersweet ending. Things were not perfect by any means but the actual relationship between the two women was positive, very rare at the time of publication. Queer relationships were usually criminalised, at least one character would be killed off; they would pretty much all end extremely negatively.

Their relationship initially was a little unhealthy. Carol had a lot happening including divorce and trying to keep custody of her child, and Therese idolised her to the point of seeing no flaws and often didn’t appreciate that Carol had a daughter. However, they both grew throughout the novel and particularly in the last section.

Average Rating
The majority of ratings for this book were either 2.5 stars or 3.5 stars. We did have a couple of 4s and 5s dotted in too, but this was probably one of our most split ones we have had in a while! The lower end was mainly to do with the fact not much happens initially. The higher end was to do with the nuance of the characters and people particularly enjoyed the road trip in the last half/third of the book. As I say, it was quite split in opinions but we had such good discussions!

LGBTQ+/Queer themes and representation in Carol
We had a wonderful chat about how even though this was written in a very different time, it still felt extremely real and relatable to now. The positivity was really great to see whilst also tackling difficult topics – Carol’s husband, Harge, tries to take full custody of their daughter by bringing Carol’s relationships with women into it. This causes the law to see it as a morality issue. This is obviously horrifying and awful for Carol. Yet we also experience the feelings she and Therese have for each other, and the tenderness they have. It isn’t all shown as negative and we are clearly not led to see Carol as the issue in this situation.

Therese’s feelings were interesting to discuss here too. We spoke about how she was very clear on her feelings. A little confused at times, but on the whole she knew she was in love with a woman and that she was okay with that even if others weren’t. In a very enlightening scene, she asks her boyfriend Richard if he has ever fallen in love with a man and if he thinks it can happen to anyone. This interaction is so interesting to see. A rather funny aspect is the difference in how Therese describes Richard and Carol. She is completely enamoured with Carol and is always saying how she is the most beautiful woman in the room, how amazing and pretty much goddess-like she is. With Richard, she tells us he has large feet and hands and is very matter of fact. The difference is so stark!

Here’s a couple of quotes about the queer representation and themes in Carol from people who attended Book Club!

Considering this book was written in the 50s, the way it approaches the wlw is so well done and it was actually nice to read a LGBTQIA+ book that didn’t have a sad ending. My favourite aspects of it were how the sexualities of Carol and Therese were never made a big deal of, mainly in Therese’s case. She didn’t have a big “gay panic” moment thats so typical of other LGBTQIA+ books and just sort of quietly accepted that she liked Carol.

Charlotte – Twitter | Instagram

I liked that it wasn’t made into a big issue when she started to question her sexuality. Her speed and flippantness of falling in love was a little unrealistic for me to buy into.

Matt – Twitter | Instagram

They also had a couple of further comments on the book.

I just found it a little slow to get into, the first third of the book seemed to drag a lot and I struggled to understand/get involved with the story but I enjoyed the last 2 thirds much more.

Charlotte – Twitter | Instagram

A very slow start that didn’t engage me to complete the book. Narrator speaking in third person and sudden cuts from one scene to another made poor writing and storyline for me.

Matt – Twitter | Instagram

Our next LGBTQ+ Book Club meet up will be on Thursday 25th February at 7pm GMT. We will be discussing The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta. Let us know if you’d like to join us and we will send you the link closer to the time! As always, a huge thank you to everyone who supports us. We are super grateful for everyone who has ever attended.

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