Susan Grossey

Plot ponderings

To give you a bit of a rest from Sam Plank, I thought I would write a post about something else – although of course, in my mind, it is linked to my own writing.  I have just finished reading a novel called “Gorsky”, by Vesna Goldsworthy.  It is a slim volume – slimmer perhaps than “Fatal Forgery” – and beautifully written.  Some of the sentences are gorgeous: “She stood out, even in this town which was full of beautiful Russian women who followed Russian money as surely as seagulls follow cruise liners.”  But here’s my beef: it’s “The Great Gatsby”.  Step by step, character by character.

The action has been transposed in time and place, to be sure: it’s now London in the 2000s rather than Long Island in the 1920s.  But apart from that, the main characters and their interactions are the same: the newly wealthy hero who has longed for an unattainable, sad, icy woman from afar; her boorish husband and his frowsy, blowsy mistress; the narrator who tries to be objective but is in thrall to the melancholy determination of the hero and his belief that money will somehow buy everything.  Even the names are echoed: the narrator is Nick, and the icy woman’s daughter is Daisy while her husband is Tom.

It’s an excellent story – which of course we knew, as the original has sold in its millions for the past ninety years.  So is it right to re-do it?  On one hand, Shakespeare took all of his plots from other sources.  And the idea of all literature being founded on a small number of plots (some say seven, others nine) is not a new one.  But to follow the original so closely, even when acknowledging (as the author does) “the debt I owe to F Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby“…  I’m not sure.  It seems to me to be a simple retelling without further illumination: I can no more understand why the men in “Gorsky” all lust after Natalia than I can understand Gatsby’s obsession with Daisy.  But if retelling can cut the mustard (after all, this new version has been published by Vantage and read aloud on Radio 4), and as I find plotting quite tricky, it’s certainly a tempting option.

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