Posted by: Corri van de Stege | February 1, 2009

The Sunday Salon – Reviews, Books and Writing

tssbadge4It’s still miserably cold, without a sign of spring or summer. There’s a flutter of snow, with a promise of more to come. It’s better to withdraw inside and bury yourself in papers, books and notebooks. However, we have tickets for The Revolutionary Road later on today and I am curious what the news papers have to say on this film.

Cosmo Landesman in the Sunday Times is scathing: ‘Unlikeable leads and staid direction mean it’s difficult to care about his saga of suburban angst’, he writes.  Landesman says that Mendes (the director) does not give us anything we can like about the Wheelers. But then, I think, Landesman does not get it: the book does not intend to portray the Wheelers as ‘likeable’, isn’t that the point that Yates tries to make? Here are two people, a couple, who think they are beyond and above all the mediocrity that suburban live has to offer, yet they have neither the guts nor the imagination to pull away from it – they are sucked into it and blame ‘suburban life’ for what in the end is their own lack of initiative or imagination on how to improve on it. As I said in a previous post: there is little to like about the Wheelers and that’s why you never feel really sympathetic to them; I thought that that was the point of Yates’ story. Yates did not think much of people, did he?

I have more sympathy with the review in the Observer, where Philip French  under the heading ‘The American Dream Turns Sour’ writes that neither of the two Wheelers is able to confront their real problems. He notes however that Mendes’ film is a lesser thing than Yates’ novel ‘lacking the book’s biting wit and larger resonances’. Well, I shall go and see the film this afternoon and judge for myself.

200 Mistakes to Avoid at All Costs If You Ever Want to Get PublishedAlso reviewed in the Observer is the book I mention in my previous post: How not to write a Novel, by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark. I’m happy to say that Kate Saunders (Leave it in the sock drawer) agrees with my verdict and considers this to be a ‘cruel but wickedly useful checklist for would-be novelists’. Yes, the book does list all the no-no’s, the mistakes that you know you make, and the reasons why your own novel or story will just stay on that slush pile, the classical faults, but although the book is almost malicious it also gives some really sound advice. Saunders relates the ‘one piece of advice so priceless that it is worth all the others put together: The more good writing you read, the better a writer you might become’. Amen to that, I’ll do my best and keep reading.

A book that appears to have sprung out of nowhere (well, only as far as my limited vision is concerned!)  but is suddenly in the limelight is Wetlands by Charlotte Roch. I am not sure whether this is exactly because of its good writing or for the shock effect, it has ‘caused a delicious outrage when it was published in Germany last year’. It also appears that Roch has only read one book over the last five years: The Great Gatsby. Wetlands is about all the (female) bodily functions ‘it was meant to be an honest book about the female body’. Both the Observer and the Sunday Times have lengthy reviews on the book. Sophie Harrison in the Observer thinks that although ‘Charlotte Roche’s bestseller may be full of graphic sex and bodily functions, [but] it’s not as shocking as she thinks’. (it should be noted here that although previously an editor, Roche is now a junior doctor and would probably have a somewhat sane and down to earth view of descriptions of bodily functions!

119f8vczlpl__sl160_aa115_There are so many more interesting reviews this weekend, too many to go through.   there are many articles and reviews of Updike of course, but there’s also a new book by Susie Orbach, also about bodies, but one that has a message as is reviewed under the heading ‘Lessons on the body politic’, written by William Leith in the Observer, is on Susie Orbach’s book Bodies.  Non-fiction, I know, but if you are interested, follow the link.

Meanwhile I have finished Nahid Rachlin’s Jumping over Fire and although it provides a lot of insight into Iran and its culture, this book is also somewhat stilted and reads more as a narrative providing a factual account of something that happened: …then I went out for a walk and came across…. ; or …the next day Khomeini returned….., etc) .

Nevertheless, all these books (and reviews) are helping me in my thinking about writing, and how to take forward my own stories. And that can only be a recommendation!  There’s so much to read and get on with.


  1. Hi seachanges,
    The weather isn’t much better up in here Scotland so I’m with you on that ‘withdrawing inside and burying one’s self in papers, books and notebooks.’

    I’m torn when it comes to going to see the adaptation of Revolutionary Road. A prerequisite for me would definitely be reading the novel first (I abhor seeing an adaptation before reading the book), but I can’t help thinking it’s going to be overly gushy a little too ‘chick flick’ given that it stars DiCaprio and Winslet. You’ll have to let us know what you thought of it.

  2. Interesting thoughts here, very insightful.

    January was well…very productive

  3. Robert B: Nice to see you around: I also read the Revolutionary Road before going to see the film (just back!) – it’s actually very good. I was taken by the writing of Yates: ok slightly chick lit as you suspect, but definitely good writing. The film was strong, but lost some of the book’s strong points. I found Yates very condemnatory of both of the Wheelers, the film comes out as if April (the wife) is more of a victim than Yates portrays her. Because of this, the film loses some of the original spitefulness that was inherent in the novel. The book is definitely worth reading and the film worth seeing…. Both portray a less than rosy perspective of the human condition (in this case, the 50’s suburbia in America).

  4. I saw Revolutionary Road on Saturday–and I loved it! The performances were extraordinary; especially DiCaprio’s. I hated him and pitied him, and I felt so bad for Kate Winslet.

    The reviewer just didn’t get it, did he? It’s a satire, and an unfunny one at that. Yates was a miserable man, and he wrote about a miserable time in American history. The 50’s were filled with hypocrisy and fraud. It was a “dead” time. The movie showed this quite well, don’t you think?

  5. chartroose: yes I’m with you on this: I also thought this was very well brought out in the movie and the way I felt about the characters was exactly as how I felt about them in the book: just miserable! You’re right, that was very much a ‘dead’ time: didn’t you just love the hats bobbing up and down – men on their way to work, and then the awful routines of women behind the sinks and polishing furniture…. what was the dream?!

  6. Hi Seachanges, thanks for this review and the link to Suzie Orbach’s book (since I love her writing). I enjoyed Revolutionary Road (the film) for the acting and the way that it brought out the misery in a powerful and different way.

  7. Pete: glad you liked the film too – I did. I’ve got Orbach’s book on my wishlist – I liked the review. And all of a sudden I feel the need for reading some more non-fiction!

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