-by Michael Farris Smith
Michael Farris Smith takes the narrator of The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway, and imagines his life prior to the events of the classic novel.
The first part of the story is set during WW1 and follows Nick’s fortunes on the front line in France – a long nightmare of bloody battles and constant fear. During short periods of leave in Paris he strikes up a relationship with Ella, a nomadic free spirit ….. an affair, that in his damaged state becomes all consuming.
Psychologically broken, Nick can’t face going home as the war comes to an end. He detours, randomly to New Orleans and enters a sleazy, pre prohibition world of chancers, prostitutes, drugs and abject poverty.
Nick falls in with some dangerous and desperate characters and a twisted drama plays out that has some strange echoes of the Great Gatsby storyline.
In an introduction to the book MFS discusses his writing life, his bouts of depression and why he was drawn to Nick Carraway as a character (he too was a dislocated ex pat feeling his life was running away from him) and it’s interesting how these elements become important themes in the book.
In The Great Gatsby Nick is an integral part of the plot but is also slightly detached, an honest outsider observing those around him, not quite connecting.
In this novel his relationship to the story and characters felt similar. This was probably intended, but I wanted to know him more and really get under his skin.
His PTSD, emotional background and family life were well described but I still felt he was an enigma. I never felt that I fully understood his actions.
Michael Farris Smith is a very good writer and creates a convincing picture of post WW1 New Orleans. He builds some strong characters and a plot full of high drama.
For me though, the darkness that blankets the novel from beginning to end is so uniform and unvarying that some of the poignancy and power is lost.
Despite having mixed feelings about this novel, it is well worth reading and as always, I look forward to next book by this author.
The book has come about because copyright on The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald ended in January this year.