Book Club review: Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
Declan Cashin discusses Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road with Auntie Noeleen's book club
Welcome to the Irish Independent Book Club where every month we bring you a compelling reading choice, from crime and mystery novels, to classics and contemporary fiction. Each month, we visit a different book club around the country and get its verdict.
This month's pick is Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, published by Vintage Classics.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Set in a prosperous America in the 1950s, Revolutionary Road concentrates on a young married couple, Frank and April Wheeler, who feel trapped in, and by, their mundane suburban lifestyle. The couple are looking to break out of their humdrum existence, leave their drab neighbours and friends behind and go to France to start a new way of life. Circumstances conspire against them, however, and their attempts to start a new life meet unexpected and tragic complications.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Richard Yates was born in 1926 in New York, but spent most of his life in California. His prize-winning stories began to appear in 1953 and, in total, he is the author of eight works, including the novels A Good School and Disturbing the Peace, as well as two collections of short stories. Revolutionary Road was his first novel and was nominated for the National Book Award in 1961.
His work was greeted with wide acclaim and was championed by other writers such as Kurt Vonnegut, Dorothy Parker, William Styron and Tennessee Williams.
However, none of Yates's books sold well, and indeed all of his novels were out of print for many years. Yates died in 1992, but by the turn of the millennium there had been a major resurgence of interest in his career.
British author Nick Hornby, for instance, mentioned the book in his own 2005 novel A Long Way Down. Yates is now considered one of America's finest post-WWII novelists. Last year, Revolutionary Road was adapted into an Oscar-nominated movie starring Leonardo diCaprio and Kate Winslet, directed by Winslet's soon-to-be ex-husband Sam Mendes.
ABOUT THE BOOK CLUB:
Auntie Noeleen's Book Club was first formed in 1994 by Noeleen McElroy, her nephew Thomas McGeough, and a few friends in Dundalk, Co Louth.
Since 2000, there have been 14 regular members, who meet on the last Friday of every month in a member's house (the host is also the one to have picked the book under discussion). Somewhat unusually there are no fewer than nine men in the club.
Overall the book was largely well received by the club. "I thought it was an excellent, powerful and tense book that dwelled in my mind for days after reading it," says Freda Laverty. "I felt pity for all the main characters who were leading these hopeless, empty lives."
Noeleen McElroy describes it as a "compassionate book about boredom and betrayal". She adds: "These were essentially unlikeable but vivid characters that were well defined, but totally out of touch with the realities of life. They're basically emotional cripples with little sense of responsibility for themselves or their dependants."
The book is mainly driven by character, rather than plot, and so inevitably the club focused quite heavily on the main protagonists, arriving at varying conclusions and judgments.
Thomas McGeough wasn't as enthused as others. "It's very well written, but difficult to identify with these two neurotic characters," he says. "They seemed to have little time for their own children and looked down on their colleagues and neighbours. The book left an overall empty feeling after reading."
Dermot McElroy sums up the book as a "thoroughly fascinating and enjoyable account of the tragic lives of a young 1950s couple in search of a new life. Yates really gets under their skin".
The character of Frank stood out for member Caroline Dunne. "He was a hateful, selfish man who had no time for anyone else except himself," is her opinion.
Paddy Quigley, on the other hand, describes the book as "gripping" but developed a deep dislike for the warring fictional couple, particularly the wife April. That said, it's a story that is possibly recognisable to many couples in current middle-class society; people who feel trapped by their circumstances and states of mind," he says.
Conversely, Freda Laverty argues that April Wheeler was the strongest character. "She's striving for her ideal life, regardless of the consequences while her husband is this spineless character who just goes with the flow," Freda says.
"The relationship between the two main characters was sad and there was a real ugliness running through the whole story."
Elsewhere, member Frank Tomba felt frustrated that the characters "could not just get on considering how much they had going for them. This was a depressing story overall with no lift for the reader."
Tom Brennan says that the supporting characters, particularly the neighbour's blunt, crushingly honest son John Givings, were well sketched. "I did feel that the storyline was quite thin, though," Tom adds.
For Donal McGeough, Revolutionary Road was "like a good cake: good ingredients, well structured, nice twists and plenty of alcohol. I loved the title of the book and how it applied to lots of areas in the story -- particularly how the two leads were revolting against their personal circumstances".
NEXT MONTH'S IRISH INDEPENDENT BOOK CLUB CHOICE is Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann. If your book club would like to take part in our monthly book club feature, or if you are reading next month's choice along with us and would like us to include your thoughts on the book, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or Irish Independent Book Club, 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1.
Buy Revolutionary Road from Eason