Saturday, 25 September 2010

Comfort reads and Richard Yates.

I have a stinking cold and so have been hunting out my most comforting reads. For some reason amusing diaries are tremendous favourites of mine in times like this and so good old Adrian Mole has been looked out, as has 'Diary of a Nobody' and Bridget Jones might even make an appearence. Nancy Mitford is another great standby and her 'Love in a Cold Climate' is my most re-read book of all. I just adore the way she writes and think her one of the most under-rated authors of all time. That title used to belong to Richard Yates. I discovered him about 7 years ago when my mother bought me 'Revolutionary Road'. I adored it and went on to read his full back catalogue.

Richard Yates specialised in writing of the bursting of the American bubble post World War II and the enemy in all of his novels was the dreaded surburbs. His use of words is incredible and there is never a superfluous word, his style is so sharp and precise. He was much lauded by fellow authors and by some critics during his life but his books did not sell and he was very hard up. He used a lot of his own or friends experiences in his books and the one criticism I have ever agreed with about his work is that there are many aspects from different books that are hugely similar.

'Revolutionary Road' was his first book and I believe his best, although 'Easter Parade' is rypically recognised as being his best work. The former was made into a film a couple of years ago by Sam Mendes and staring Kate Winslet and Leonardo Dicaprio and all of a sudden Yates' legacy altered beyond all recognition and his books were stocked everywhere and most of them were republished. I thought the film a fine adaptation his the book although I disliked the way the ending was handled and subtly altered. I do feel sad that Yates did not gain the profile he so sorely desearved and also craved during his lifetime for he was very much overlooked and had rather a horrid time of it. To anyone interested in reading about the man himself there exists a terrific biography of him by Blake Bailey called 'A Tragic Honesty'.

I think there is great skill in being able to match your mood with an appropriate book to suit it and as demonstrated above I find humour and light reading best for times of ill health and feeling sorry for oneself. Reading Richard Yates if hihgly inappropriate for such times! His books I rate very highly indeed but their tone is depressing and I keep them for periods of contemplation. I would certainly never read them at a specially fun time where I wanted my mood to be light and happy such as a holiday or Christmas. But for times when one is at a crossroads or feels like doing a lot of thinking about life, the world and other people they are very insightful for they do make one think. For me 'Revolutionary Road' always makes me consider the Paris of our imagination, and how most people are simply too scared to break free to ever try for their particular Paris. Also it makes me consider what it is to be female and how few men are really male. 'Easter Parade' is quite different and I find it darker for Yates wrote women terribly well and it follows one woman through her unsatisfying and ultimately empty life. It is a dark portrait of being alone, single and above all female.


  1. I absolutely adore Richard Yates' "Revolutionary Road". The story is so close to perfection. I've been working on my review of it for quite sometime. I can't seem to write about it without becoming emotionally charged. Richard Yates is defiantely a comfort read. I'm looking forward to reading the "Easter Parade", have been unsuccessful trying to locate it at local book shops.

  2. Have you read any other of his books? 'Cold Spring Harbour' is pretty terrific and although it is often scoffed at by Yates enthusiasts I still think 'Young Hearts Crying' is worth reading. He also wrote several marvellous books of short stories which are now published as one volume.