This scholarly book makes intriguing new connections between the people and personalities from Fitzgerald’s booze-fuelled milieu and the cast of characters who inhabit his work.
From a time of loose morals and abundant excess there are episodes that, even today, would create scandal. Fitz’s wife Zelda strips off in public at the drop of a hat, dances naked on nightclub tables, chases the teenage brother of a party host upstairs for sex – it’s outrageous and it’s a tabloid dream.
There’s so much material from this hedonistic era that the merger between fact and fiction makes a richly entertaining guessing game: Who’s really who in The Great Gatsby?
The list to choose from is delicious. There are the super rich, there are industrialists, studio moguls, celebrities, gangsters, hucksters, bootleggers, wannabee stars, critics writers and all manner of hangers-on.
Never mind that we’ll never know the full truth, the fun is in the inquiry and author Sarah Churchwell brings meticulous research to bear to help us find out.
Where the book falls down is in its structure and a narrative arc that chops and changes between racy revelation, history lesson and professorial critique. If you haven’t studied the book or the period you might struggle – like many of the guests at Fitz’s parties – to make it all the way through to the end.