Next year Michael Farris Smith is publishing a prequel to The Great Gatsby
, focusing on the life of Nick Carraway, who was Jay Gatsby’s neighbour in the original and the book’s narrator. Seeing it announced encouraged me to re-read Fitzgerald’s book, having only a half memory of languid women of the Jazz Age and the sort of parties I would rather die than attend, hosted by Gatsby. I should say, if you have not read the book or seen the film, there are spoilers below.
I’d like to think that when I first read the book – decades ago – I was brought up short on page 32 when one Tom Buchanan starts talking about The Rise of Coloured Empires, whose author “… has worked out the whole thing. It’s up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things.” How very QAnon. Tom then, is a baddie. His wife Daisy does not exactly share his views, nor are they shared by the narrator Nick, a distant relative of Daisy’s but Nick knows nobody other than them, having pitched up on Long Island working as a bond salesman. No, me neither, but it’s legit if not exactly productive employment.
Nick lives across the Sound from Daisy and Tom, having rented a place next to Jay Gatsby’s pile where every weekend high society turns up to party. “…the Mulreadys and Cecil Roebuck and Cecil Schoen and Gullick the state senator and Newton Orchid who controlled Films Par Excellence… And the Catlips and the Bembergs and G. Earl Muldoon, brother to that Muldoon who strangled his wife. … and the Chromes and the Backhyssons and the Dennickers…” Fitzgerald must have had fun with this two page long list. “All these people came to Gatsby’s house in the summer.” But none of them really knew who Gatsby was, or, more importantly for those at the sort of superspreader parties Trump would love, where he got his money. There were rumours disguised as facts, facts disguised as rumours but it was unlikely to be through honest toil. Bootlegging maybe.
Though Nick hated the parties, he was fascinated by Gatsby, who, it turned out was in love with Daisy and had carried a torch for her for five years some of which he spent at war in Europe, then time at “Oggsford” as the one person who seemed to know him explained. Nick, Nick’s languid girlfriend, Tom and Daisy and Gatsby circle round each other. Tom has a mistress, the wife of a garage owner and, after a row, Daisy runs her down while driving Gatsby’s car, killing her. It’s an accident but Daisy and Gatsby hit and ran. The garage owner traces Gatsby and, thinking it must have been him driving his own car, shoots him, then shoots himself. Look, I said there were spoilers.
Nick is desolate, and does the rounds to get people to attend the funeral. No-one comes, save Gatsby’s father – an ordinary Joe from out of town, still believing that Gatsby had done good, Nick and one of the odder party guests, and that’s it. Even the one person who seemed to be a real friend, who’d talked about “Oggsford” and was rumoured to be the man who fixed the 1919 World Series, declined to attend. “I can’t do it – I can’t get mixed up in it.” Nick “felt a certain shame for Gatsby”. It was time for everyone to move on, including Nick who decided to go back West and Daisy, who loved Gatsby, but had definitely moved on, still with Tom. It was over.
Gatsby’s world made me shudder, as much as I shudder when I see the celeb focused mags on newsagent shelves, and when reading of the parties attended by our own High Society, the Camerons, the Johnsons, the Lebedevs, the Elton Johns… it would be easy to draw up one’s own two page list.
Fitzgerald is out of copyright, so there are several editions of the book, but this one’s cover is a homage to the original of 1925. It also includes an intro by Michael Farris Smith and a promotional chapter for his forthcoming Nick, the prequel.
The Great Gatsby is orderable here – https://fiveleavesbookshop.co.uk/product/the-great-gatsby/