The Price Of Salt by Patricia Highsmith

I don’t think I understand Patricia Highsmith, but that could be due to the fact that I haven’t read any of her suspense novels, so haven’t yet enjoyed the sense of atmosphere most people ascribe to her writing. The Price Of Salt is more romance novel than any other genre, and I get that it was a seminal work given the plot, but oh my God, is it dull. Therese, our heroine, is quiet and generally inarticulate. Carol, the object of her affection, is mercurial and aloof. Together, they are an intensely uninteresting pair. Oddly, I don’t fault the plot at all, or even the characterization (tho it likely helped that I visualized Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett the entire time) but the writing, which is shallow and numbingly cold. Essentially, the entire book is: Therese does this. Therese does that. Carol is mean, or at best ambiguous, to her. Things happen, good and bad. The end.

I mentioned, partway through reading the book, that it feels a lot like reading the diary of an unimaginative and not very articulate young woman, written, for no discernible reason, in the third person. But there are moments, such as Waterloo, and sentences, like this one:

Happiness was like a green vine spreading through her, stretching like fine tendrils, bearing flowers through her flesh.

where the beauty of love shines through and it’s almost a worthwhile read. But had this been published today, it would be quickly dismissed as of slight interest, which I think is less of a slur against the book than a compliment to our present society of readers and writers.

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