Sunday, April 02, 2006

the great gatsby

for anyone interested enough to click on the links or my profile on here, i have a second page, which has chunks of books i love on it.
i would put this on there too, but i thought it went better here.... so. an extract from 'the universal story' by ali smith, taken from 'the whole story and other stories'.

"There was once a 1974 Penguin edition on F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic American novel The Great Gatsby in the window of a quiet second-hand bookshop in a village that very few people visited any more. It had a hundred and eighty-eight numbered pages and was the twentieth Penguin edition of this particular novel - it had been reprinted three times in 1974 alone; this popularity was partly due to the film of the novel which came out that year, directed by Jack Clayton. Its cover, once bright yellow, had already lost most of its colour before it arrived at the shop. In the film-still on it, ornate in a twenties-style frame, Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, the stars of the film, were also quite faded, though Redford was still dapper in his golf cap and Farrow, in a very becoming floppy hat, suited the sepia effect that the movement of sun and light on glass had brought to her quite by chance.


The novel had first been bought for 30p (6/-) in 1974 in a Devon bookshop by Rosemary Child who was twenty-two and who had felt the urge to read the book before she saw the film. She married her fiance Roger two years later. They mixed their books and gave their doubles to a Cornwall hospital. This one had been picked off the hospital library trolley in Ward 14 one long hot July afternoon in 1977 by Sharon Patten, a fourteen-year-old girl with a broken hip who was stuck in bed in traction and bored because Wimbledon was over. Her father had seemed pleased at visiting hour when he saw it on her locker and though she'd given up reading it halfway through she kept it there by the water jug for her whole stay and smuggled it home with her when she was discharged. Three years later, when she didn't care any more what her father thought of what she did, she gave it to her schoolfriend David Connor who was going to university to do English, telling him it was the most boring book in the world. David read it. It was perfect. It was just like life is. Everything is beautiful, everything is hopeless. He walked to school quoting bits of it to himself under his breath. By the time he went up north to university in Edinburgh two years later, now a mature eighteen-year-old, he admired it, as he said several times in the seminar, though he found it a little adolescent and believed the underrated Tender Is The Night to be Fitzgerald's real masterpiece. The tutor, who every year had to mark around a hundred and fifty abysmal first-year essays on The Great Gatsby, nodded sagely and gave him a high pass in his exam. In 1985, having landed a starred first and a job in personnel management, David sold all his old literature course books to a girl called Mairead for thirty pounds. Mairead didn't like English - it had no proper answers - and decided to do economics instead. She sold them all again, making a lot more money than David had. The Great Gatsby went for £2.00, six times its original price, to a first-year student called Gillian Edgbaston. She managed to never read it and left it on the shelves of the rented house she'd been living in when she moved out in 1990. Brian Jackson, who owned the rented house, packed it in a box which sat behind the freezer in his garage for five years. In 1995 his mother, Rita, came to visit and while he was tidying out his garage she found it in the open box, just lying there on the gravel in his driveway. The Great Gatsby! she said. She hadn't read it in years. He remembers her reading it that summer, it was two summers before she died, and her feet were up on the sofa and her head was deep in the book. She had a whole roomful of books at home. When she died in 1997 he boxed them all up and gave them to a registered charity. The registered charity checked through them for what was valuable and sold the rest on in auctioned boxes of thirty miscellaneous paperbacks, a fiver per box, to second-hand shops all over the country.

The woman in the quiet second-hand bookshop had opened the box she brought at auction and had raised her eyebrows, tired. Another Great Gatsby.

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Now a Major Picture. The book was in the window. Its pages and their edges were dingy yellow because of the kind of paper used in old Penguin Modern Classics; by nature these books won't last. A fly was resting on the book now in the weak sun in the window.

But the fly suddenly swerved away into the air because a man had put his hand in among the books in the window display in the second-hand bookshop and was picking the book up.

Now:

There was once a man who reached his hand in a picked a second-hand copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby out of the window of a quiet second-hand bookshop in a small village. He turned the book over as he went to the counter.
How much is this one, please? he asked the grey-looking woman.
She took it from him and checked the inside cover.
That one's £1, she said.
It says thirty pence here on it, he said, pointing to the back.
That's the 1974 price, the woman said.
The man looked at her. He smiled a beautiful smile. The woman's face lit up.
But, well, since it's very faded, she said, you can have it for fifty.
Done, he said.
Would you like a bag for it? she asked.
No, it's okay, he said. Have you any more?
Any more Fitzgerald? the woman said. Yes, under F. I'll just -.
No, the man said, I mean, any more copies of The Great Gatsby.
You want another copy of The Great Gatsby? the woman said.
I want all your copies of it, the man said, smiling.
The woman went to the shelves and found him four more copies of The Great Gatsby. Then she went through to the storeroom at the back of the shop and checked for more.
Never mind, the man said, Five'll do. Two pounds for the lot, what do you say?
His car was an old Mini Metro. The back seat was under a sea of different editions of The Great Gatsby. He cleared some stray copies from beneath the driver's seat so they wouldn't slide under his feet or the pedals while he was driving and threw the books he'd just bought over his shoulder on to the heap without even looking. He started the engine. The next second-hand bookshop was six miles away, in the city. His sister had called him from her bath two Fridays ago.

James, I'm in the bath, she'd said. I need F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.
F what's the what? he'd said.
She told him again. I need as many as possible, she said.
Okay, he'd said.
He worked for her because she paid well; she had a grant.
Have you ever read it? she asked.
No, he'd said. Do I have to?
So we beat on, she'd said. Boats against the current. Borne back ceaselessly into the past. Get it?
What about petrol money, if I'm supposed to drive all over the place looking for books? he'd said.
You've got five hundred quid to buy five hundred books. You get them for less, you can keep the change. And I'll pay you two hundred on top for your trouble. Boats agasinst the current. It's perfect, isn't it?
And petrol money? he'd said.
I'll pay it, she'd sighed.

Because:

There was once a woman in the bath who had just phoned her brother and asked him to find her as many copies of The Great Gatsby as possible. She shook the drips off the phone, dropped it over the side on to the bathroom carpet and put her arm back into the water quick because it was cold.

She was collecting the books because she made full-sized boats out of things boats aren't usually made out of. Three years ago she had made a three-foot long boat out of daffodils which she and her brother had stolen at night from people's front gardens all over town. Shew had launched it, climbing into it, in the local canal. Water had come up round her feet almost immediately, then up round her knees, her thighs, till she was midriff-deep in icy water and daffodils floating all around her, unravelled.

But a small crowd had gathered to watch it sink and the story had attracted a lot of local and even some national media attention. Sponsored by Interflora, which paid enough for her to come off unemployment benefit, she made another boat, five feet long and out of mixed flowers, everything from lillies to snowdrops. It also sank, but this time was filmed for an arts project, with her in it, sinking. This had won her a huge arts commission to make more unexpected boats. Over the last two years she had made ten - and twelve - footers out of sweets, leaves, clocks and photographs, and had launched each one with great ceremony at a different UK port. None of them had lasted more than eighty feet out to sea.

The Great Gatsby, she thought in the bath. It was a book she remembered from her adolescence and as she'd been lying in the water fretting about what to do next so her grant wouldn't be taken away from her it had suddenly come into her head.

It was perfect, she thought, nodding to herself. So we beat on. The last line of the book. She ducked her shoulders under the water to keep them warm.

And so, since we've come to the end already:

The seven-foot boat made of copies of The Great Gatsby stuck together with waterproof sealant was launched in the spring in the port of Felixstowe.

The artist's brother collected over three hundred copies of The Great Gatsby and drove between Wales and Scotland doing so. It is still quite hard to buy a copy of The Great Gatsby in some of the places he visited. It cost him a hundred and eighty three pounds fifty exactly. He kept the change. He was also a man apt to wash his hands before he ate, so was unharmed by any residue left by the fly earlier in the story on the cover of the copy he bought in the quiet second-hand bookshop.

This particular copy of The Great Gatsby, with the names of some of the people who had owned it inked under each other in their different handwritings on its inside first page - Rosemary Child, Sharon Patten, David Connor, Rita Jackson - was glued into the prow of the boat, which stayed afloat for three hundred yards before it finally took in water and sank.

The fly which had paused on the book that day spent that evening resting on the light fitting and hovering more than five feet above ground level. This is what flies tend to do in the evenings. This fly was no exception.

The woman who ran the second-hand bookshop had been delighted to sell all her copies of The Great Gatsby at once, and to such a smiling young man. SHe replaced the one which had been in the window with a copy of Dante's The Divine Comedy and as she was doing so she fanned open the pages of the book. Dust flew off. She blew more dust off the top of the page then wiped it off her counter. She looked at the book dust smudged on her hand. It was time to dust all the books, shake them all open. It would take her well into the spring. Fiction, then non-fiction, then all the sub-categories. Her heart was light. That evening, she began, at the letter A."

i loved this the first time i read it. the other week a friend came to visit with a weighty rucksack of books (just so i need to put more shelves up - but thank you em!)... among them was 'the great gatsby', which i've never read. it's got the 'film' cover. i've started reading it today.

and when i looked at the back of my most recent purchase, i saw this....




i do like life's little coincidences sometimes :)

6 Comments:

Anonymous c'lam said...

oh.

i love that.

a lot.

i am going to steal it.

and print it out.

12:35 pm  
Blogger zoe said...

was that a bit of free-form verse, c'lam? ;)

thank you - it's been on my to do list for ages to put a note on the page saying it's probably easier to print off and read at leisure...

i very recommend any of ms smith's other books as well.

10:23 am  
Anonymous c'lam said...

i read like, but i was quite disappointed with it - it was like a short story that just went on for too too long.

not read much else though, but i will after enjoying the gatsby thing

2:49 pm  
Blogger zoe said...

god.
c'lam, thank you again for the mabel stark book - i read it on my travels this weekend and i'm blown away.
a proper girl's adventure story. lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

12:59 am  
Anonymous c'lam said...

i recommend that book to anyone that will listen - and sometimes i buy people copies!

its deefinitely one of my favourites.

ever.

3:51 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://www.gatsbyquotes.com - Quotes from “The Great Gatsby” along with detailed analyses.

6:07 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home