Yorkshire Post - YP Magazine

Nick by Michael Farris Smith

- NO EXIT PRESS, 317PP, £12.99 REVIEW BY ALLAN MASSIE

The narrator of a novel may be an actor or he may be an observer. One thinks of Isherwood’s “I am a camera,” but Scott Fitzgerald was there before him. Nick Carroway, the narrator of The Great Gatsby, is of very little interest himself. We learn the bare details of his life to date: growing up in the Mid West where his father owned a hardware store, brief war service, return home and now a bond dealer on Wall Street spending the summer at West Egg on Long Island. But he’s there as a point of view: to give us the mysterious Gatsby, the rich and careless Buchanans and Jordan Baker.

Now Michael Farris Smith has written what is advertised as a prequel to Gatsby, Nick’s story before Fitzgerald gave him voice. Apparently the novel was finished some five years ago, publicatio­n delayed till Fitzgerald’s work dropped out of copyright. The law relating to infringeme­nt of copyright can be strict, but really Farris Smith and his publishers might reasonably have risked an early publicatio­n, for, apart from the name, Nick Carroway, and the fidelity to Fitzgerald’s brief notice of Nick’s pre-Gatsby life, there is no other connection.

“Prequel to Gatsby” is a sellingpoi­nt. Indeed yes, but it may also be a distractio­n. In truth the reader is well-advised to forget Fitzgerald and read Nick as a novel which exists in its own right.

The first section is a war novel, interspers­ed with memories of Nick’s childhood. His service at the front is interrupte­d by leave in Paris where he meets and falls in love with a girl who sells picturefra­mes from a cart.

Back in America, Nick goes to New Orleans instead of returning home. There he becomes involved in the city’s low life.

The New Orleans section of the novel has echoes of earlier fiction set in that city, but neverthele­ss exists convincing­ly and enjoyably in its own right.

One does find oneself wondering

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