Before Nick Carraway moved to West Egg and into Gatsby’s world, he was at the centre of a very different story – one taking place along the trenches and deep within the tunnels of World War I.
Floundering in the wake of the destruction he witnessed first-hand, Nick delays his return home, hoping to escape the questions he cannot answer about the horrors of war. Instead, he embarks on a transcontinental redemptive journey that takes him from a whirlwind Paris romance – doomed from the very beginning – to the dizzying frenzy of New Orleans, rife with its own flavour of debauchery and violence.
What I Thought:
I’ve not read The Great Gatsby for a very long time, but found myself intrigued by the idea of a prequel from the point of view of that book’s narrator, Nick Carraway. He does seem ripe for a back story, as so little about his history is mentioned in Scott Fitzgerald’s book.
Michael Farris Smith has taken quite bold approach to Nick, in that it is only in the last few lines that he arrives in West Egg, ready to take on the role of the narrator that we already know of.
Aside from that, the rest of this book is a tense and powerful novel of a young man’s experiences in WW1 and what the trauma of such experiences can do to people in a physical and mental sense.
I’m not sure whether it was intended the way I read it, but I felt that the section of the book set in New Orleans paired Nick and Jude up to show the depth of physical and mental scars existing in the men returning from the war by consciously pairing up the two injured men whose only real connection is that they understood what it was like to be there. Their association during this section is very dark and bleak but, perhaps Nick’s return from New Orleans signals his being able to rise above his memories and guilt?
I have an abiding interest in WW1 and I felt that the sections of the book dealing with this, especially the tunnelling campaign, were excellent, depicting the every day experiences of the fighting men, but also the futility of advancing and retreating over the same piece of ground. There is also an immediacy about Nick’s relationship with Elle in Paris that emphasises the importance of grabbing moments and experiences while you can.
In the foreword by Michael Farris Smith, he says that he approached Gatsby very differently upon reading it at a later stage in his life and I am interested to see what the difference of years makes to me when I read it again – I have found out my copy of Gatsby to do just that soon.
Regardless of whether you associate this book with Gatsby or not, it is an excellent novel of the First World War – sensitively written and with a real understanding of the loss and guilt of war, I very much enjoyed it.
Nick is released today (25th February) and is published by No Exit Press.