Happy Monday Everyone!
The birds are whistling, the sun is shining in the sky, I have a lunch break and all is right with the world. I thought I’d give you my latest book recommendation. If you fancy a touch of class you could do a whole lot worse than The Last Tycoon by F Scott Fitzgerald.
The Last Tycoon, Fitzgerald’s final and incomplete novel, is a love story set in Hollywood in the 1930s. Loosely based on Irving Thalberg, a wunderkind producer for MGM (pictured with his wife, Norma Shearer above), it tells of a Hollywood producer who falls for an girl who bears a strong resemblance to his dead wife. Their relationship becomes entangled with the Hollywood and union politics of the time.
One of my all time favourite books is A Moveable Feast . Even worse, my favourite chapter of this favourite book is the one in which Hemingway describes a hellish road trip he’s forced to take with Fitzgerald to pick up a car. F Scott Fitzgerald does not come out it well. Anyone who has ever had to get an obstreperous drunk acquaintance into a taxi at the end of the night will relate to Hemingway’s sheer frustration at the antics of his friend. Anyway, that, and the fact I know he used to steal bits of his wife’s diary to put in his novels (A bit of a dirty trick IMOHO), has put me off him a bit. I also find the Great Gatsby kind of cold.
But I have an ongoing love affair with Hollywood in the 30’s and I know F Scott Fitzgerald did have a short and unsuccessful career as a scriptwriter, so I thought I would give it a go. And, I’ll go so far as to say that this novel, had it been finished, would have been better than the Great Gatsby. This is the one he should have been remembered for.
Class drips off every page. This is an older, sadder and wiser man than the one who wrote about the bright young things of the jazz age. His hero this time is a decent guy working in an industry that’s moved past the need for decent guys. All Fitzgerald’s work is steeped in nostalgia and this is much the same but somehow more elegiacal than the Great Gatsby – perhaps because I can relate much more to the early Hollywood of poor kids from Brooklyn making a fast buck in the pictures than I can the moneyed set of the roaring 20s.
I think some of his own experiences found a way into this book too, particularly in the character of the English writer who publishes bestsellers but can’t write scripts. I’ll never know but I think some of his conversations with Monroe are lifted straight from real life. And I think that in this case, the women are written with more understanding. Daisy in Gatsby is a young man’s fairytale come to life; the women in this book are living, breathing, flawed individuals and that lifts the whole story.
Although Fitzgerald may never have been any great shakes as a scriptwriter, he definitely had an ear for the fast paced screwball dialogue of the films of the day. The conversations in this novel feel like the script of a 1930’s film – fast and quippy which is juxtaposed to the lanquid and bittersweet plot. It shouldn’t work, but it does – you’re kept alert by the dialogue whilst being pulled gently along by the undercurrents which give you time to think about what Fitzgerald was trying to say.
Also, this is one of the few books I have ever read where one paragraph made me gasp out loud, read it again, and then pass it around to my friends in the room to make sure I got it right. If the 90’s film buffs are still with us from last time, think: ‘this one time, at band camp,..’ and you are still not even half way there.
I wish he’d finished this. But, there is a bonus. He left his notes behind him, which have been added to the end of the novel and make an absolutely fascinating snapshot of how he wrote his books. I was enthralled – it was so much more like looking behind the curtain than any amount of interviews could be.
I was slightly obsessed with 1930’s Hollywood as a teenager. This book was about nostalgia, but for me it also brought back that nostalgia and so on my trip to Barter Books in Alnwick last weekend I bought about 5 other stories and biographies of old Hollywood. Keep your eyes peeled for reviews in the coming weeks…
If you like the authors and novels of this period – and you should, if you have a romantic bone in your body, want to spend a summer in Paris with Ernest, Gertrude, Zelda, Scottie, and the various other american ex pats that hung about the place back then – then watch Midnight in Paris, by Woody Allen. I love that Owen Smith and I feel the same way about this.
I’m not going so far as to say I like F Scott Fitzgerald. He was still nasty to Zelda, and a REALLY irritating drunk, but after reading this I may have warmed to him – a little. I would love to have seen what he would have done with the end of the story.
Next time, a complete change of pace with The Nemesis Charm, a Young Adult fantasy and brand new book. I’m also reading My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferante for my book (and mainly wine) club. I wont say much other than it was a very good shout – I’m being spoiled for good fiction this year. I’m not always this complementary, I promise.
Oh and by the way – this week’s blog pics are also a fun quiz! They’re stills of some of my favourite old movies. Fancy taking a guess at which ones? Answers in the comments box please!