“Revolutionary Road” by Richard Yates (1961) – book review

This is one of my best-loved books of recent years, up there with “Stoner” and “Crossing to Safety“. It’s a masterpiece.

I defy you not to follow April and Frank’s travails through suburbia and their attempts to survive in a dog-eat-dog world, where our main characters struggle with the rules and their personal goals, without being completely swept up into their world of thwarted dreams.

The writing certainly reflects the times, and we as readers cannot help but compare and contrast life in the fifties with the here and now, but though the furniture and those cocktail parties would seem quaintly dated these days, the sentiments hold fantastically true across the decades. Strip away the top layers, and the uncomfortable realities are laid bare of the dilemmas this couple face over time. The Wheelers are trapped by their circumstances, their children, their social standing – and largely by themselves. Hugely insightful and thought-provoking, the author somehow manages to infuse comic moments and situations while perfectly portraying the broad spectrum of human emotions and relationships.

Of course, the film has come along and carefully and elegantly translated the flavour of the novel onto the Big Screen, losing nothing along the way and gaining a very credible Kate and Leonardo to boot, but it does ever so slightly lack the finesse of the brilliant, brilliant words on the page.

It’s quite incredible for a first novel. Oh, and the last three pages of the novel are also my top favourite last three pages of all time, by the by – a certain image of neighbours Mr and Mrs Givings has stayed with me ever since reluctantly putting this book down …

Am far from alone in being swept away by Richard Yates, sadly deceased and am sure on many people’s Desert Island Dinner Companion lists. Kurt Vonnegut names the book as “The ‘Great Gatsby’ of my time”; Michael Chabon calls it “a devastating novel”. Love that David Hare of “The Observer” commented: “I hand out copies of ‘R.R.’ to anyone who will take them” and that another David, Sedaris, confesses that “I read ‘R.R. once a year.” Ditto!

And adding some much-needed gravitas to this blog, am over the moon that Mr P is also a guest blogger for this review, and has agreed to contribute his comments on some of the forthcoming Literary Ramblings. See his take on “The Bees” from a little while back, and here’s what he felt about the vintage classic “Revolutionary Road” – thank you Tim, and here’s to many more shared blogspots…

” Just finished it! Wow! What a good book! Loved every sentence of it… which is a bit odd because I thought at first it was going to be just another slightly jaded turning over of the sugary American suburban life of the 1950s… which indeed it is, but somehow manages to touch the true essence of the individual’s universal struggle with self and society. The constructions of narrative, plot and characterisation are superb: deft, delicate and adroit. It is an unravelling, thread by painful thread, of lives that seemed to hold the promise of fulfilment, the promise of joy, of Elysian fields that somehow we all envisage as possible; and yet we find that everyone in the book, protagonist or protagonist’s helper, is struggling to avoid being ‘a victim of the world’s indifference’.

 And yet the author’s calm neutrality doesn’t always succumb to the inevitability of moral defeat, physical exhaustion and the ‘steady dwindling of all pleasure’… there are moments of light, laughter, compassion and sudden sparks of human connection which fire up the beauty of the world. Without these we’d be lost, or at least the book would be very depressing. It is tinged with sadness, but more beautiful in its art than depressing in its message.

 I’m starting ‘Middlesex’. ”

Watch this space…

Nicola’s rating : 10/10 – A FAVOURITE BOOK

Mr P’s rating : likewise, 10/10.

Nominated for the National Book Award in 1961.

Images taken from here and here.
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5 Responses to “Revolutionary Road” by Richard Yates (1961) – book review

  1. I loved Stoner and Revolutionary Road is on my TBR list. I didn’t know it was Yates’ debut novel – even more impressive!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. FictionFan says:

    Yes, a truly great book! I’d put it very, very close to Gatsby as my favourite American novel of all time. One of those ones that left me totally stunned and wrung out and that I still think about months after finishing reading.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve heard great things about this one. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: “Stoner” by John Williams (1965) – book review | Literary ramblings etc

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