Peyton Place by Grace Metalious

peyton place - grace metaliousI would never have even thought of reading this book if it hadn’t been for Simon of Savidge Reads, who having heard great things about it, suggested we read it together for a bit of a rogue book read while on our woodland weekend away.

Peyton Place (although recently re-printed with this lovely cover by Virago Books), was actually published way back in 1956. I think it must be a generational thing,  because although I had never heard of it,my Dad mentioned that there was a TV series of the same name which was popular in the 1960’s. It was also made into a film not long after the book was published in 1957 which I need to get my hands on!

Peyton Place is a fictional New England town ‘book-ended’ by two churches of different Christan denominations. It seems an idyllic sort of place with an orderly main street and a host of respectable-seeming residents. As their intimate lives are revealed, this facade is peeled away to reveal some of the nastiest aspects of human behaviour.

From the cover of my rather well thumbed copy (below), I could have been forgiven for thinking Peyton Placewas pulp fiction.

The first lines of the book hint at drama;

“Indian summer is like a woman. Ripe, hotly passionate, but fickle, she comes and goes as she pleases so that one is never sure whether she will come at all, nor for how long she will stay.”

And even some of the books advertised in the back of this copy sound like totally (probably fabulous) trashy bodice-rippers of novels. But to focus only on the sensationalist angle of this book sells it short. It is sensational and shocking – I was surprised at just how shocking – however it is also beautifully written, emotive and clever. I can’t help but love Metalious even more after reading in a Wikipedia article that she is reported to have said;

“If I’m a lousy writer, then an awful lot of people have lousy taste,”

I can’t agree more. Over the course of nearly 500 pages, she weaves an elaborate story of lives tortured by past mistakes, and present-day crimes of the home. We are let into the lives of children who are discovering sex and also adults who rediscover a passion that they thought they had lost. The characters are wonderfully brought to life – I felt that I was really going on a journey with them. There is also a serious commentary on the acute differences between the well-to-do people of Peyton Place and the ‘shack-dwellers’ on the outskirts of town. Metalious poignantly highlights how drastically where a person is born can impacttheir opportunities and experiences in life.

I loved the character of Selena, a tough, streetwise girl from the shacks, and giggled inwardly at the innocent decisiveness of Allison Mackenzie. She goes from being determined to be the only girl in the world not to get her period to having dreams of becoming a writer who lives in the city and has affairs left, right and centre. I also developed quite a crush on Michael Kyros, the handsome new school principle who stirs things up when he moves to Peyton Place from New York.

I don’t want reveal too much of the storyline of Peyton Place, because I really enjoyed watching the skeletons pop out of people’s closets one by one. I’ll just sum up by saying that this is truly one of the best, most enjoyable books that I have read.

My rating:

10 out of 10.

23 responses to “Peyton Place by Grace Metalious

  1. I love Peyton Place. It’s a really good book. Shame it’s got a reputation as a trashy novel because more people should read it.

    • TOTALLY agree. I imagine it’s a forerunner to quite alot of these sort of TV shows / books where small town American lives are exposed too…

  2. Simon’s review made me buy a copy of Peyton Place and yours has made me want to read it even more now!!

  3. Oh wow, I have never even heard of this book but of course now I need to get one!

    • Ooh, do look out for a copy. You should be able to pick up a cheap second hand one anyway or the new cover is fabulous too.

      • I don’t know whether I want to thank you or curse you, Polly 😉 My Mt. TBR has just got bigger: Amazon order gone in this morning. It’s a disease, I tell ya!

      • novelinsights

        WHOOPS! 🙂 I’m so excited to find out what you think. I agree it’s a disease, but might as well accept our fate!

  4. You make me want to read Peyton Place again. It was all the rage when I was about 12 or 13. And we lived from one episode to another when the TV show was on. Mia Farrow was Allison Mackenzie, Dorothy Malone was her mother and Ryan O’Neal played the rich kid. Oh, what delicious memories you have set in motion.

  5. I read this book in either 8th or 9th grade. Over and over. I internalized it. Although it’s been a while and my tastes have changed some, I’d read this one again in a heartbeat. Good stuff!

  6. So, so pleased you loved it Polly. (Michelle has been ominously silent with her thoughts, we will have to ask her tonight!) I think its going to become one of my favourite books of all time, I certainly cannot wait to ‘Return To Peyton Place’ though I might hold off for a while. Maybe we could go on a vacation there together again next year?

  7. I´ve never heard of this book, but now I can´t wait to see what it´s all about 🙂

  8. Your review of Peyton Place, particularly the mention of the character of Selena, reminded me of one of my favorite novels, A Rage to Live by John O’Hara. The main character (who has the “rage to live”) probably shares some features with Selena. John O’Hara’s novels are an acquired taste, and can’t be recommended lightly. If you don’t know his work, he’s similar to Sinclair Lewis, but much more ambitious (and wordy) in his attempts to paint a picture of mid-century eastern American culture. Amidst the voluminous detail, however, he depicts fascinating people and is deliciously subtle in his characterization. If you haven’t read him, I’d recommend Appointment in Samara and Butterfield 8 to begin with.

  9. Wow this sounds really great, I don’t think I’ve heard of it before. I’ve really been getting into 50s era books lately. And a 10 out of 10 rating! I think I’m going to have to get my hands on a copy.

  10. This has been inching its way up my TBR pile this year and I really hope I manage to read it soon (here’s hoping it’s another summer read) – I love you enthusiasm for it, Polly!

  11. I need to read this now! I’m going to borrow my friend’s copy, pronto!

  12. Wow, I’ve heard of this but was under the impression that it was a very ‘sensational’ read. But you are saying it’s more…does that mean I have to read it now?

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