The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Tome On The Range

Superflous Fetishisation: Ned Beauman On The Great Gatsby
Ned Beauman , May 12th, 2013 14:26

In the first of a short series of vignettes commissioned to mark the release of Baz Lurhman's The Great Gatsby, Ned Beauman - author of the Man Booker Prize longlisted The Teleportation Accident - recalls a curious summer spent in New York doing 'Gatsby stuff'

There is not yet a Great Gatsby theme park in New York, but it's possible to assemble one of your own. Last year a friend of mine came to visit me there and because she loves Gatsby we did an entire week of Gatsby stuff. On the less ambitious end, you can go to Gatsby's, a Lower East Side restaurant with no apparent connection to the book, and also to the cocktail bar Little Branch, where the bartenders are so exhaustive in their training that if you tell them you're obsessed with Gatsby they'll make you a gin cocktail called the Fitzgerald. On the more ambitious end, you can get the train up to the town of Great Neck on Long Island, the basis for West Egg. (It's not often remarked upon that Gatsby is one of the few literary classics that resembles a fantasy novel in its inclusion of a map at the beginning of the story.) In Great Neck, you can go to the nondescript and unmarked family home where Fitzgerald may have started Gatsby, and you can sit on the dock outside Louie's Oyster Bar and Grille, searching for a green light on the other side of Manhasset Bay. Let me save you the trouble: there isn't one.

I wonder how many times that week I said or heard the word 'Gatsby'. Five hundred? A thousand? It felt more like a million. My love of the book was submitted to a brutal stress test, and that was on top of a few uncomfortable realisations from the recent past. First, that many of Gatsby's emotional chords were played seven years earlier with a good deal less sentimentality by Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier, which Fitzgerald certainly must have read. Second, that Gatsby is not nearly so interesting about Jay Gatsby as it is about its chilly narrator Nick Carraway, which leaves all this fetishisation of the houses and the parties looking even more superfluous. Third, that loving Gatsby too much as a teenager can give you a tendency to write novels about men going to preposterous lengths to recapture the ones they love – see, for instance, Boxer, Beetle and The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman – which is a pretty adolescent theme.

So if my relationship with Gatsby was already teetering on the brink that week, then going to the Public Theater to see Gatz, an eight-hour dramatic reading of the novel by a company called the Elevator Repair Service, should have punted it right into the Valley of Ashes. But in fact it had the reverse effect. Perhaps the pivotal moment for me was when Gatsby shows Daisy his collection of English shirts and Daisy starts crying. On the page, it's poignant. On the stage, it's played as slapstick. But instead of making Gatsby harder to take seriously, this was a reminder that Gatsby is one of those rare masterpieces that can cheerfully catch anything you hurl in its direction. The essential power of the book is so robust that no affectionate satire can demean it, nor an unaffectionate satire, nor a misguided film adaptation, nor even a New York Gatsby binge.

Ned Beauman's The Teleportation Accident and Boxer, Beetle are published by Sceptre, Baz Luhrman's The Great Gatsby is released in the UK on the 16th of May

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.