Friday 21 November 2008

The Road to Revolution

I mentioned that I'd read Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road last week, for part of my Masters course, and Lucy added in the comments that a film is coming out - which probably means the novel (complete with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet on the cover, no doubt) will be rocketing up bestseller lists again. Well, whatever small amount my influence can do will, I hope, give the book a start on its way.

Published in the early 1960s, Revolutionary Road was successful in some respects, but widespread popularity doesn't seem to have been one of them, at least not for very long - Yates' is now described as a 'writer's writer', whatever that means. Has to be a good thing, one assumes. Revolutionary Road tells the story of Frank and April Wheeler, idealists who live in non-ideal suburbia. The novel opens with a play in which April plays the lead - and it is an unmitigated failure. So (watch out for the simple transferral of allegory) is April's performance as a housewife; so is her performance as a latent revolutionary. The Wheelers dream of better things, and think they are hiding their gold amongst dross - but the credentials of that gold come under question when April decides to put their long-held plans into action.

Revolutionary Road is unmistakably American, and I don't know why. It's not just the "Geez, baby"s that crop up from time to time, but... well, I just don't know. The American Dream in the background, perhaps. The striving for an achievement, even when that achievement is impossible - striving where the English would have cynically given up and put on a pot of tea.

Similarly, I don't know why this novel is so good. All the usual - writing that grabs you, situations which need resolution, a subtle wit throughout - though undeniably sad, too. As I was reading (and before I knew that the Titanic co-stars would be reuniting) I kept thinking the book would make an excellent film - the plot is so event-led. Lots of emotions on the surface, or lots of surface emotions anyway. Kate Winslet rarely does a bad film, and never turns in a bad performance, so I'm quite excited at the prospect of seeing this one on the silver screen. Hopefully Yates will become a readers' writer.


  1. I haven't read this (yet) but have read about it and Richard Yates generally in zhiv's extensive and informative posts. You might like to check them out.

  2. I loved this book, so much. The film was a bit flat in comparison. I know I'm coming to your review rather late in the day but just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your description of the difference between the striving Americans and the tea drinking's so true. English people seem far more accepting of their limitations than the Americans. And I think we are more passive as a nation too. You don't have 'the English dream' here, because no one would want to step on anyone else's toes to get to the top.


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