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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Thursday Book Talk: "Gatsby's Girl," by Caroline Preston

Gatsby's Girl by Caroline Preston
Gatsby's Girl: A Novel
Caroline Preston
Mariner Books, 2007 (paperback) (ISBN 0618872612 / 9780618872619)
Fiction, 336 pages

First sentence
: Scott Fitzgerald's daughter called long distance, out of the blue.

Book description: Before he wrote some of the twentieth century's greatest fiction, before he married Zelda, F. Scott Fitzgerald loved Ginevra, a fickle young Chicago socialite he met during the winter break from Princeton. But Ginevra threw over the soon-to-be-famous novelist, and the rest is literary history. Ginevra would be the model for many of Fitzgerald's coolly fascinating but unattainable heroines, including the elusive object of Jay Gatsby's unrequited love, Daisy Buchanan.

In this captivating and moving novel, Caroline Preston imagines what life might have been like for Fitzgerald's first love, following Ginevra from her gilded youth as the daughter of a tycoon through disillusioned marriage and motherhood. Gatsby's Girl deftly explores the relationship between a famous author and his muse.

Comments: I think that The Great Gatsby contains some of the most beautiful writing of the 20th century, and F. Scott Fitzgerald's portrayals of the overprivileged, aimless young adults of a society that didn't realize it was on the brink of major change have always appealed to me, as an outsider looking in. As it happens, Fitzgerald was a bit of an outsider in that world himself, and much of his early exposure to it came through his romance with a young Chicago pre-debutante named Ginevra King during his years at Princeton. In Gatsby's Girl, Caroline Preston has woven the known facts about their relationship into a novel exploring how it affected them both in the years after it was over.

Fitzgerald acknowledged on several occasions - including in conversation with his daughter - that several of his female characters were based on his memories and impressions of his first love, Ginevra, and what he imagined had become of her. Caroline Preston imagines Ginevra into a fictional character again here - re-christened Ginevra Perry, possibly in recognition of one of the characters she inspired, Josephine Perry, protagonist of several of Fitzgerald's short stories.

The real Ginevra King claimed not to have read any of Fitzgerald's writing or to have followed his career, but fictional Ginevra Perry couldn't say the same. One thing I might say about Ginevra Perry is that deep down, she's rather shallow. Her infatuation with Scott Fitzgerald wears off even as his feelings for her seem to grow, and when her father suggests he's not "suitable," she doesn't need much more encouragement to cast him off. By then, she's already got her eye on dashing would-be aviator Billy Granger, and at Scott's request, she discards all of the letters he wrote to her - although, thirty-odd years later, she learns that he did not do the same.

When she accidentally discovers that her former beau has become an acclaimed author - and the toast of the expatriate community in Paris, along with his wife Zelda, considered the original "flapper" of the Roaring '20's - Ginevra becomes caught up with "the one that got away," starting a clip file on Scott and catching up on all of his books. In several of his characters - Isabelle in This Side of Paradise, Josephine Perry, and The Great Gatsby's Daisy Buchanan - she recognizes herself, and this fuels both her renewed fascination with Scott and her unrest with her own life as wife to Billy and mother of two boys.

The premise of this novel intrigued me, and the early-20th-century time period interests me. I found Gatsby's Girl to be a fast and absorbing read, and even if it was difficult to like Ginevra sometimes, it wasn't hard to understand and feel empathy for her. It must be a curious experience to discover that you're a muse.

Rating: 3.5/5

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7 comments:

  1. Thanks for the interesting information on Fitzgerald's first love. It makes me want to read a non-fiction about him.

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  2. Forgetful Librarian - It was an interesting premise, but you have a point - wonder how it would look from his side?

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  3. I'm such a Fitzgerald nut. This sounds intriguing.

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  4. Laura (L.A. Story) - The writing isn't Fitzgerald-caliber (what is?), but it's good, and if the premise interests you, you may want to check it out.

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  5. I'm not sure my husband would like this (he really likes Fitzgerald's writing, but it certainly is an interesting story. I will have to give this one a try.

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  6. Sounds like you found an interesting book. It doesn't surprise me that there is a prototype out there for his aloof female characters. I didn't get Gatsby when I read it in high school, but I found that it had a lot to offer when I re-visited it as an adult.

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  7. Wendy (Literary Feline) - I don't know if it would appeal to your husband either; it's definitely a female-centric read.

    Nicole - I found it thanks to an online friend last summer, but it's taken me a while to get around to reading it. I loved The Great Gatsby, but I should re-read it one of these days to make sure that I still do.

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