Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Revolutionary Road": the Book

I had wanted to read the book ever since I watched the movie and loved it. (If you read that post and you haven't watched the movie or read the book, don't read the one comment: it contains a major spoiler.) I thought the movie was one of the best I have ever seen.

Given that, the book was necessarily a bit of a disappointment, just as a movie made from a book you have read is always a disappointment because you know what's going to happen next, and that takes away much of the charm of the story. And as I'd liked the two lead actors so much in the movie, as I read the book I kept picturing Kate Winslet and Leonardo diCaprio as April and Frank Wheeler, so that I am not sure I can judge the book separately from the movie.

But the book was brilliant, all the same. It paints a realistic picture of a conservative society and two individuals who feel constrained by it and yet comfortable enough in it that they fail to venture out. And as you read you learn more and more about the principal characters, just as you learn more about someone the longer you have known them and you see them change over the years.

To my mind, the movie had been about Kate Winslet playing April: she overshadows the movie completely with her personality. The book, however, is more about Frank: most of what we see of April is from his perspective, so that it's difficult to get a sense of who she really is and what makes her tick. You know what Frank thinks of her, but he doesn't seem that perceptive a person anyway: you can't be sure he reads her correctly and that his idea of her isn't coloured by his narcissism.

Because Frank is a narcisisst: there isn't the least hint, throughout the book except perhaps a little at the very end, that he cares for anyone other than himself. Maybe April is a narcissist too - Frank certainly seems to think so - but I can't be sure, because April is just a shape viewed through Frank's perceptions.

The movie seemed much more clear than the book, much more focused in what it was trying to say and where it was going. The book meanders, as books tend to do, and makes much less of a point. But April remains, in both, a desirable, unattainable and tragic figure.

One thing I preferred in the book was the portrayal of Shep. In the movie Shep was the bungling friend, somewhat of a caricature. The writer though, paints the portrait of Shep lovingly, revealing him to be a flawed but sympathetic figure.

Anyone else has read the book or watched the movie? What do you have to say?

Also, if you have time to spare, read this discussion on the book at the New Yorker. (Scroll down: I haven't linked to any one post because there are a few of them.)

*An edited version of this post published here.


Nitu Saksena said...

I feel this book/movie would make more sense to indian audience atleast 20 years later. I feel majority live in much more conservative society already. Only a handful really want to break free. I was once told by a friend "April is crazy, whay did she have to do all that".. Sigh!!
My heart sank on hearing that comment.

Unmana said...

Nits: Actually, when watching the movie, the Guy commented how this movie makes sense to us now, because Indian society is probably at least as conservative as American society was sixty years ago.

If you've read the book, most people - even Frank - do seem to think that April is crazy. Yet she's probably the fictional character I could ever most identify with. (Except for the luminous beauty she is supposed to have.)

Aarthi said...

Hi Unmana,
I saw the movie and later read the book too(even I desperately wanted to read it :)
you are right, the movie was all Kate, mind blowing performance! I thought she did this movie better than "the reader" which won her the oscar.
and I agree with you about the movie being more focussed than the book
wrote about it here

Unmana said...

I totally agree with you about the Reader. If you read that earlier post I've linked to, we watched the Reader first, and then this one. And this was mindblowing.