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Revolutionary Road - Richard Yates

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Author: Richard Yates / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 01 January 2009 / Genre: Modern & Contemporary Fiction / Publisher: Vintage / Title: Revolutionary Road / ISBN 13: 9780099518785 / ISBN 10: 0099518785 / Alternative EAN: 9780099518624

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    6 Reviews
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      09.02.2014 20:28
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      Will make you question what is important to you

      The plot of Revolutionary Road is quite tricky to describe. This is a book without a lot of action, and is more of an exploration of human nature with the odd event, until the last 30 pages or so when the pages are completely action packed.

      Revolutionary Road is the name of the street where lead characters April and Frank Wheeler live with their two children. They are in their late 20s and are living the 1950s American Dream - married, house in suburbia, two children, he works and she stays home, friendly neighbours. However, this isn't enough for Frank and April.

      Frank and April are not likable characters. For me, Frank was worse. He is selfish and pathetic, and is totally wrapped up in himself and his own interests. Everything he does he contrived and calculated - this includes manipulating his face for hours on end to make his wife feel guilty and concerned for him. April isn't as bad as Frank, but she is still selfish and self-absorbed. Whilst she does show some ability to be able to relate to other people and seems to be lost as to who she is, she is so difficult and pig headed throughout the novel that it was difficult to warm to.

      The book is set into three parts, in the first part the Wheelers are not getting on. The hate seeps from the page, this is a couple which are highly dysfunctional. In part two things improve when they hatch a plan to leave everything behind and move to Europe. I'll leave the third part so as not to spoil it for future readers! There are also some side plot lines involving other neighbours on the street which were really interesting.

      ~My Thoughts~
      This book was fantastically written. To say this was a debut novel for Yates in 1961, he is a master storyteller and you feel that he was born to write this book. This novel might not be to everybody's tastes due to how subtle it is, but to me Yates was a wonderful storyteller, delicately weaving the story and then hammering it home on the last few pages. He never tells you how to think, but presents the characters to you for analysis.

      I'm amazed that I enjoyed a book which characters that were so awful to read about. Frank in particular made my skin crawl with his self absorbed prattery. I had more sympathy for April, but she was still far from likable. Both characters felt like they were special and deserved more, and they were just waiting for their lives to get better and turn into what they expected it to be. This was obviously supposed to be juxtaposed with the reality of them having a very fortunate and well-off lifestyle with two children, a nice house and plenty of friends. It was hard to feel sorry for them when they had so much.

      This novel covered lots of tough topics such as parenthood, progressing at work, abortion, mental health and neighbourhood gossip. We often hear about the Wheelers through the gossip of their neighbours, showing the uglier side to suburbia with all the judgmental comments.

      Although this book was incredibly bleak and I HATED Frank so much, overall I loved it. The characters were so believable and the topics covered were interesting. It felt like a very subtle book but I enjoyed it, it felt very beautiful and delicate. It really made me question my own life and the things that are important to me. What do we do because we want to and what do we do because we're expected to do it? At least we have more choices now in 2014 than they had in the 1950s, particularly in relation to women. April may have had a very different life if she had been a 21st century girl. I'm going to look out for the film version to see how they adapted it to the big screen.

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      11.06.2011 12:02

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      A beautifully written book about a flawed suburban family

      This book was recommended (and ultimately given) to me by a friend who claimed that it "changed her life". I'm not convinced I would go as far to say that Revolutionary Road "changed my life", but it does appear to have made a lasting impression on me.

      The book tells the story of Frank and April Wheeler, a young family living in the suburbs of 1950s New York. Right from the beginning of the novel, it is clear that things aren't as perfect as they seem, and before long you are drawn into their spiralling relationship that ultimately ends in tragedy.

      A truly touching read that is beautifully written, it opens up a new insight into the family unit and mental health, that is completely unique. I would definitely recommend this book as it is an interesting and gripping read criticising the 'ideal' image of the American suburbs and the failings of the American Dream.

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      28.04.2011 23:29
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      If you're planning to read this.. good luck!

      I love to read outside of what I am used to, so I was initially pleased when my book group recommended Revolutionary Road. I found it really hard to gel with, though, for the following reasons.

      I found the story to be surprisingly unengaging. Although Revolutionary Road was a revolutionary book in its time, capturing the essence of the changing scene of the 50s and the changing roles between suburban men and women, I felt that the plot was bland and simplistic. In a way it was too easy to read. It did not feel challenging, I felt like I learned very little, and somehow the drama seemed staged and predictable. I felt this without knowing anything about the book beforehand, and reading up on it afterwards to learn of its merits still did not convince me that I had spent worthy time reading it.

      The couple who are at the centre of the novel, Frank and April Wheeler, perhaps deserve sympathy and understanding from the reader, however I found them tedious and their stifled arguments repetitive. It was like having to sit through the petty comments between bickering siblings for about an hour. When Yates finally introduces a new character, John, who has an entirely different style of speech to April and Frank, his character is meant to be mad, and his foray into the novel is too brief to become anything substantial in the novel as a whole. Towards the end of the book April becomes pregnant and she and Frank talk about actually making a go of their marriage; April wants to move away, and Frank suggests that this might actually happen. I won't give away what happens but no actual changes occur, it's still all dialogue about Frank's hard life (his own opinion) and the emptiness of everything.

      When reading this book I felt that Yates would deliberately focus on observing the worst points of human behaviour, without the wit or humour required to engage the reader's perspective. The book left me feeling empty, like I had wasted my time reading it, which is perhaps what he intended (which is what a few people in my book group argued) as a way of reflecting the feeling of the Wheelers and the other 'suburbanites' of that era, but personally I felt that this was a cheap trick and did not demonstrate a particularly good skill at writing.

      I also found the constant sexism in the book a little tiring.. I realise that times were different back then, but I didn't feel that Yates made any positive or productive social commentary on the sexism, yet he bluntly demonstrates it throughout Revolutionary Road. It only fuels the drama-laced tone and plot of the book.

      I won't give away what happens, but I thought that the end of the book was horrific, overly dramatic, and downright depressing. This book is not for the faint hearted, and I'd say that it uses 'shock and awe' tactics that make a very disappointing read overall. Perhaps I've misread it, but I spend a lot of time and effort on anything I read and I just couldn't see the 'revolutionary' side of this novel. It did, however, seem excessively middle of the road, to me.

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        04.04.2010 16:46
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        A young couple search for excitement in their dreary, suburban lives

        I haven't seen the film version of this yet, though thanks to a fellow dooyoo member, I did already know how the story ended before I read the book. Still, despite this, it was still an excellent read.

        Revolutionary Road tells the tale of a couple in their late twenties, April and Frank Wheeler, and their two children. The pair have already been married for several years when the story begins, and are living the American Dream, which I'm sure is familiar to us all by now- the middle class suburbia with the white-picket fences and the water sprinklers that start up seemingly in synch every evening in the summer. The worriless, carefree lives, with drinks after work, and a house full of shiny white appliances to make a woman's life that much easier. This is just what American life in 1953 should be, isn't it?

        The problem is that Frank and April don't agree. They are sick and tired of the lives they're leading, and, if truth be told, they are sick and tired of each other and the amount of arguing they do. April thinks that Frank drifted into his job and that he needs some time and space to decide what it is he really wants to do with his life, and so she suggests they leave their tired American dream behind and head to Europe. Really, this is the story of the consequences of them trying to make a better life for themselves.

        I'm not sure exactly how Richard Yates managed to create such a captivating page-turner out of such a seemingly simple idea, but he certainly succeeds. This is mainly due, I think, to the superb characterisation of not just April and Frank, but a handful of supporting characters who are intrinsic and absolutely vital to the plot.

        One such personality is John Givings, the son of some elderly neighbours, who's been put into a psychiatric unit for his schizophrenic personality and who is not at all afraid to speak his mind. Unfortunately for the Wheelers, he's also highly perceptive and seems to understand more about their relationship than they do themselves.

        The Campbells are also crucial to the story, as fellow sufferers of the dreary suburbia- they too have children, and they too long for something different, although you get the impression they'd never actually do anything about it. The four of them like to sit and poke fun at those around them, to make themselves feel that they are somehow different; that they have not been sucked into the meaningless void that surrounds them.

        The story is largely told in the third person, from Frank's perspective. Frank strikes me as a bit of a pathetic character, but he's very cleverly portrayed. I started off thinking he was quite an admirable figure, and a bit of a victim of his wife's unpredictable personality. As the story wore on, however, I realised that what the author was doing was to show how Frank had also contributed to the cracks in their relationship, but to simultaneously show us how unaware he was of this. He seems to like the idea of making decisions and taking control of his life, without actually doing so.

        His character is so well written, I wonder how much of it applied to the author himself. In either case, he either shows a stunning self-awareness or is just very talented at reading human nature and putting it onto paper.

        It's a great shame that only one small part of the story is told from April's perspective. I get the impression Yates didn't want to try and write from the perspective of a female as he was concerned about not being able to do it properly. However, he develops her personality well even just observed from Frank's perspective, and she really does come across as a very real, very traumatised and somewhat desperate character when we read part of the story through her eyes. I think he ought to have taken a leap of faith and written more of the story as April. He probably would have done a great job.

        So, overall, Richard Yates has done an excellent job of making suburbia something that is interesting yet painful to read about, and somehow it feels like it could be applicable to any human, regardless of where or when they live. I've heard bad things about the film, but even if it really is as bad as people say, the book is definitely worth a read.

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          24.12.2009 18:32
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          An excellent novel of the colapse of an American dream

          This is one of the best books I've read this year - it is far more than the story of slightly repressed suburban couple. As it has just been made into a mainstream film, I was shocked at how radical it is - this is not only the story of a couple that have not achieved what they imagined for themselves, this is the story of a man controlling his wife through her childbearing. Its fascinating, disturbing and overall excellent.

          Yates writes the story of Frank and April, a couple that know they are far better than their surroundings, and destined for far more than the pedestrian, suburban life. Of course, they aren't. No, as the reader you quickly work out that Frank and April are no better or more exciting than their boring neighbors. Sure, they could have run away to Europe as they once planned, but instead Frank forbid April from ending her first pregnancy and they sink into uninspiring surrounds of American suburbia. There they have their minor infidelities, little embarrassments and projects, but when they cook up a plan of leaving it all and restarting their European adventure, things fall apart and end in tragedy.

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          14.02.2009 21:21
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          I'm really not sure - its well done but wasn't for me...

          I don't quite know what to say about this book. It was beautifully written, the characters were believable, the emotional scenes were very emotional and yet... somehow it left me feeling a little flat.

          I must admit, it is not at all then type of book which normally appeals to me. I picked it up because I quite liked the look of the film and usually always prefer to try the book first if I can. And it was half price - bargain! I had seen the film trailer before picking it up so I picture Kate Winslet as April throughout, though Frank was, to me, purely a creation of the author (he's played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the film if anyone's interested and doesn't already know).

          The story is of a suburban American couple with two children, a nice house and a comfortable life. They seem happy but the book drags us into the hidden side of their perfect existence where we see a marriage that is falling apart; that perhaps never was the happy ideal that it appeared to be. They recognise their problem but seem somehow unable to solve it, continuously re-enacting scenarios that have haunted them for years and playing their roles to perfection.

          The story is told from the viewpoint of Frank, the husband, but his recollections give us glimpses into the past of both characters and the story doesn't feel at all one-sided - I did feel that I was getting both characters' points of view. Perhaps this was due to the writing, April's husband knew her well enough that the writer managed to give me an easy empathy with her; perhaps it was simply that I could more easily identify with her than Frank (because I'm like her? Simply because I'm female? I don't know?).

          The writing drew me in from the start and an early emotional scene was very tense and left me feeling slightly drained, I was anticipating more of the same and half dreading, half looking forward to continuing. But, after that great start there was... nothing much. I was vaguely interested in the characters, their lives, what happened to their marriage but I can't say I really cared. I was aware of the tragedy of their needless misery but relatively unmoved by it.

          All in all, if the book sounds like your kind of story then I'd say give it a try, its certainly well written. If you just like the look of the film it might just be worth seeing that (I'm still going to - how bad can it be with such a talented pair of actors?). As for the book, I'll just be passing it on to someone else - I don't think I'll be reading it again...

          337 pages

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