Book Reviews

Take 6 steps from Revolutionary Road

revolutionary-roadOnce again this month the #6Degrees “meme” started with a book I’ve not read, forcing me to be ever more creative in finding links. Let’s see how this one pans out…

Link 1: The chain began this month with Revolutionary Road, the debut novel by American author Richard Yates. Never having read this I have little information other than it was published to great critical acclaim in 1961, becoming a finalist for the National Book Award. It seems to have had a bit of a revival in 2005 when Time magazine chose it as one of the best 100 English language novels published since 1923. Interviewed in 1972, Yates said his novel was intended as  an indictment of American life in the 1950s.

That word indictment takes my brain into crime and accusations of wrong doing. Of which of course one of the most famous came from Emile Zola in J’Accuse. This was framed as an open letter published on 13 January 1898 in the newspaper L’Aurore addressed to the French President. Zola accused the government of anti-Semitism and the unlawful jailing of Alfred Dreyfus, a French Army General Staff officer who was sentenced to lifelong penal servitude for espionage. Zola pointed out judicial errors and lack of serious evidence. The letter was printed on the front page of the newspaper and caused a stir in France and abroad. Zola was prosecuted for and found guilty of libel on 23 February 1898. To avoid imprisonment, he fled to England.

This is a long preamble to my second link in the chain.

Link 2: Zola and the Victorians: Censorship in the Age of Hypocrisy

zola-victoriansThis deals with an episode some ten years before the Dreyfus Affair when a member of the National Vigilance Society denounced Zola and others like him for producing “vile literature” read by  “young girls in low bookshops” that lead them into prostitution. He hadn’t actually read the books himself but the result was the prosecution of Zola’s British publisher and his subsequent financial ruin. The book is woven from various sources including court records, Hansard, letters, journalism and illustrations.


Link 3:  His Bloody Project  by Graeme Macrae Burnet
bloody-projectThis is a novel that also uses a narrative device of documents such as witness statements, medical reports and a journalistic account of a trial. It’s a psychological thriller that purports to be about a true crime in a  remote crofting community in the 19th century Scotland. Opinions on the novel have varied (I’ve yet to read it) but it was clearly one that wowed the Booker Prize judges in since they put it on the shortlist. Not bad for a second novel.

His Bloody Project creates the illusion that this is a true crime but my next book in the chain is based on a true-life murder.

Link 4: The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or the Murder at Road Hill House by Kate Summerscale

suspicions-of-whicherIn June, 1860 three-year-old Saville Kent was found at the bottom of an outdoor privy with his throat slit. The crime horrified all England and led to a national obsession with detection. Summerscale turned this into a book which brought great critical praise and commercial success and led to an acclaimed TV adaptation.

TV adaptations takes me to a quartet of novels which I love and an adaptation into a TV series which is one of my all time favourites.

Link 5: The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott

jewel-in-crownScott’s quartet covers the dying days of the British Raj in India including the period of World War II. The first novel The Jewel in the Crown deals with an inter-racial love affair which scandalises both the British and the Indian elites but the remaining three novels focus on the Laytons, a military family  who live at a hill station and encounter their own challenges with racial attitudes amongst their contemporaries. The Jewel in the Crown TV series broadcast in 1984 did a superb job of showing the tension between the different elements in this community and in the country at large.

Tensions between factions also rears its head in a novel set in another part of the former British Empire: South Africa.  And so we come to my final book in the chain.

Link 6: Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton 

crythebelovedcountryPaton wrote this at a time when he feared increased for the future of his South African homeland  because of the rise in feelings of animosity towards the black population.  Soon after publication in 1948, the government enacted a system of racial segregation known as apartheid. It was to remain in force until 1994. Cry the Beloved Country is a multivocal novel that dramatises the differing attitudes within the country and examine the causes for the breakdown in relations. Highly recommended reading for anyone who wants to understand the issues of South Africa.


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

14 thoughts on “Take 6 steps from Revolutionary Road

  • Revolutionary Road is pretty intense! It’s definitely worth a read though, and the Kate Winslet / Leonardo DiCaprio movie version was a good adaptation I thought.
    Cry the Beloved Country is one of my favorite books – I love Paton’s writing, it is so beautiful.

    • thanks for the insight – sounds like one to choose when I have time so I can enjoy more fully

    • it always starts out feeling impossible but the brain has this habit of making odd connections so in the end its enjoyable

  • Reading this brought back distant memories of Cry Beloved Country given to me by an English teacher at school and recent memories of An Officer And A Spy, Robert Harris’s retelling of the Dreyfus Affair that I found fascinating. Am impressed that you found ways to link up Alan Paton and Dreyfus with the others!

    • I’ve heard the title An Officer And A Spy mentioned but never knew it was about the Dreyfus affair. I’ll take a closer look at this now

  • Loved this post, you have referenced some of my favourite books and reminded me that I have the Zola on my Kindle. I must read it soon!

    • I never thought to hear you say you havent read the Zola when you’re reading is so extensive….

  • I always enjoy reading these! Thanks for reminding me of the TV dramatisation of The Raj Quartet. Those were the good old days when they didn’t try to squeeze a lengthy book or two into four or six episodes.

    • Some tv adaptations now look rather old fashioned (I’m thinking of I Claudius for example and The Six Wives of Henry 8) but not The Raj Quartet – still feels very fresh to me. Its such a sweeping story that it would have been ruined if they’d squeezed it into fewer episodes

  • Interesting links….I loved Revolutionary Road and went on to read a few more books by Yates. Cry the Beloved Country takes me back to the 60s…and my year attending university in SF (before transferring to Sacramento).

    Thanks for sharing.

    • I have a copy of Revolutionary Road that I picked up back in October but its going to have to wait a while before I get to it

  • I love the idea of this meme and the connections you made, especially the historical links. Great post!

    • Thanks Debra, sometimes when I do this meme I embark on it thinking ‘how the hell do I make any connections’ but somehow it seems to come together


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