Stitch and Bear

A long-running Irish blog with reviews of the best restaurants in Dublin and throughout Ireland. Some wine and cocktails thrown in for good measure!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Revolutionary Road - Richard Yates

Richard Yates has been held in high regard by many literary critics for years now, but never seemed to make it through to the cultural mainstream. His deeply autobiographical first novel, Revolutionary Road, was optioned many times since its publication in 1961 but has only finally made it onto the silver screen.

The Wheelers are a married, settled 1950s couple who are struggling with the slow death of their ambitions and hopes. On the surface they are conventional, with two children, friendly neighbours and roles in the local dramatic society. Frank works in the marketing department for a large business machines company, while Alice is a housewife. Gone are the days when they were a carefree couple living a post-war bohemian lifestyle. Instead they find themselves enclosed by work, children and society.

A daring plan to move to France and rediscover a bohemian lifestyle initially unites the couple and brings them happiness and peace once again. However, their frustration and pettiness surfaces once again and threatens their future happiness once again. The portrait of Jack Wheeler is eerily brilliant, but I did think that the character of Alice Wheeler was porrly drawn by the author.

This novel has been compared to F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and it's easy to see why. Both novels are concerned with the cost of appearing successful and living the American dream. It's also not surprising that Yate's novel has found a new market in today's society. It's quiet story of frustration and aimlessness with resonate with many in today's world. Other characters are superbly created. We have the Campbells, a neighbouring mirror-image couple who live on a thin line of liking and disliking the Wheelers. Also in the cast is the dysfunctional Givings family who struggle with emotional expression and their disturbed son.

Revolutionary Road is not easy reading nor does it have a happy ending. It is bleak. It is an amazing portrayal of quiet despair and the simultaneous liking and hatred of conventionality. Despite being nearly 50 years old, its tale is still potent and will reach a new audience through the release of the film by Sam Mendes.

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