I 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.
10 out of 10.