Not long back I picked up a book (a novel) at a friend's house. It looked like this:
Movie tie-in covers...you don't want to look but you can't help yourself, right? This one caught my eye (movie stars do that...it's their job, I suppose) and I remembered an article I'd read about how this was a great book even if it was from way back in the mists of time (1961) and not terribly well-known. I hadn't heard of the book before the Sam Mendes directed film came out last year and I hadn't seen the film yet either (I very rarely get to the cinema for films other than Us or PGs these days). In fact even if I had had a grown-up cinema opportunity in the last year or so I'm not sure 'Revolutionary Road' would have been a film I would have jumped at anyway (no real reason - I loved Mendes' 'American Beauty')...but the book...that sounded interesting. Its author, Richard Yates (1926-1992...nothing to do with Yates' Wine Lodge as far as I know) sounded a bit of a mystery too. Was it really such a great book – a classic that had somehow been overshadowed by other works, other great American novels? There was only one way to find out. I borrowed it from the friend...and I read it.
To be completely honest my Mum (who was at a loose end book-wise and who is a big fan of 'good novels') read it first. She loved it, read it in a day and passed it on enthusiastically with a 'it's brilliant, it's brilliant'. Of course this made me suspicious (how often do you like the same books as your parents...it does happen...sometimes...) but after a couple of weeks I got round to reading it too. And she was right, godammit - it is a really, really, really good novel. There are lines (and even groups of lines) that are so perfect you just want to read them over and over again...and how often does that happen? Really? Poets try to do it all the time...but how often do they succeed? This novel filled me with admiration for the ex Mr Yates and more than a hint of dismay that he is yet another writer to succeed more posthumously than pre (he had some success as a writer whilst alive but nothing mindblowing...apparently he had a great career as a drunk though...and there is a hell of a lot of drinking in 'Revolutionary Road', well researched evidently...). There is a book about Yates by Blake Bailey called 'A Tragic Honesty' (reviewed by James Wood in the Guardian back in 2004 here). That article is well worth a look - it gives you plenty of background on Yates, his work and his life.
But back to 'Revolutionary Road' - it's a tale of sad old surburbia, of strained relationships and promise unfulfilled but none of that misery matters much because the writing is so good that it turns every disappointing scene into a dazzling display of what I feel the urge to call wordsmithery. Confident, precise, piercing, economic...you could keep coming up with adjectives to describe the way this book is written but really, you may as well just go and read it. Come back and tell me if you don't love Frank Wheeler (the central character) even though you'll absolutely hate his stupid guts at the same time. Having seen the cover and the movie posters it was hard not to see actor Leonardo di Caprio as Frank in my mind as I read from time to time and to wonder whether he would be right for the part (as you do). As it happens I should think he makes a fairly good job of it. I was never one of those who thought DiCaprio physically attractive (I'm always fairly indifferent to round-face young boy looks...) but I have liked DiCaprio's acting (especially since he got older) in films like 'Blood Diamond' (a much better film than you might imagine), 'The Departed', even bits of 'The Aviator'. I think DiCaprio has fought, as an actor, to be taken seriously to an extent and that would help when it comes to Frank Wheeler (Frank wants to be taken seriously...he just doesn't know what for). I didn't find myself imagining Kate Winslet as Frank's wife April Wheeler so much – partly because Kate Winslet is just so much Kate Winslet now (big movie star, global brand) that I find it hard to see her as any other character these days. I liked her in 'Titanic' (just to be awkward), in 'Sense and Sensibility' and in 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' (to my amazement I liked that film...I was expecting to hate it) but these days she's just everywhere...like Madonna, Tom Cruise, Katie frigging Price...and when that happens stars/celebrities are ubiquitous to the point of extreme tedium, aren't they? 'Less is more, darlings, less is so much more' you want to shout at their jets as they zoom overhead. That and 'there are other people in the world too you know' and 'don't forget the little people'...oh, too late, you already did....
Anyway, forget the film, it'll be on Film Four eventually (or whatever your favourite free film channel is, international visitors) and then we can all fall asleep in front of it. Get the book though and read it with your eyes wide open. Then when you've finished it read it all over again.
p.s. and go and read Ross Wilson's comments to this post (especially his first one). If I haven't convinced you to try Yates he certainly will!
5 hours ago