Ever since he drew my attention some years ago to the best book I’ve read in the last decade – Time Will Darken It by William Maxwell – I have trusted Nicholas Lezard’s judgement. And if I remember correctly, it was his recommendation in the Guardian that also made me rush out to find Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, of whom I had never heard. It wasn’t in the shops, so I had to order it.
When the book arrived, I was almost put off by the image on the jacket. It was of a car, and if there’s one thing guaranteed to make me not want to pick a book up, it’s a machine on the front. (There’s a lively debate among the writers I know about what constitutes an effective cover. I say a human face or figure is a good idea. A friend of mine who writes romantic comedies disagrees: what she likes is a landscape or a still life. Some say blue is a turn-on, others hate books with brown covers.)
Ignoring the car, however, I turned to the accolades on the jacket. David Hare, Kurt Vonnegut and even Tennessee Williams had apparently all adored it, and the introduction was written by one of my favourite writers, Richard Ford. I read the book at once and ever since I’ve been trying to tell people about it without, I fear, making much of an impression, except on members of my own family. My husband became such a fan that he then went on to buy and read Yates’s other (excellent) novels.
Revolutionary Road was first published in the United States in 1961 where it was nominated for a National Book Award and was very successful. It didn’t, however, do very well when it was first published in this country in 1986. So what can I say to persuade readers of Slightly Foxed that here is something out of the ordinary and well worth searching out? Well, paradoxically what makes it extraordinary is that it’s about unremarkable people who live in ordinary houses in an ordinary street in suburban America in the Fif
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