Sunday, 11 October 2015

Gorsky - Vesna Goldsworthy

"I was hit by a wave of unexpected grief, the like of which I had felt neither when my parents died nor when I lost my country." 

Vesna Goldsworthy's Gorsky is a reimagination of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, set in 1990s London, filled with extravagant Russians with names quirkily borrowed from the work it was inspired by. It was also Waterstones' last month's Fiction Book of the Month, which is why I decided to give it a go. I think it's important to state here that I absolutely adore The Great Gatsby and have possibly read it a bit too many times.

It's a tale most people are probably familiar with, and Gorsky doesn't go too far, or even far enough, in attempts of giving it a twist. Nick - here it's a shortened version of his Serbian name Nikola - works at a charming little bookstore in Chelsea that makes virtually zero revenues, but where he meets Roman Borisovich Gorsky.  The rich Russian tasks him to gather glamorous books and pieces for his private library, which soon turns into an attempt at courting Natalia Summerscale. I don't know if this description makes the book sound interesting, but to me it was dull.

The language flows beautifully and the book makes great observations, but its true charm lies where it has the bravery to leave its inspiration behind - a miracle that doesn't happen often enough, especially towards the end. I devoured the book quickly, with the hope that I'd witness a turn that would take the classic story to a new level, take me by surprise and make me truly appreciate the beautiful piece in my hands. This - spoiler - never happened.

I think Goldsworthy's literary talent shouldn't be doubted - the beautiful lines aren't ripped from the original piece and the characters have charming traits on their own, from Nick's wavering love for his war-torn home country to Gery's - she replaces Jordan Baker as Nick's not quite love interest - imperfect, steroid-ruined beauty.

This being said, I would much rather see her tackle a plot of her own, because she didn't exactly do this one much justice. It's an unfair comparison because The Great Gatsby is one of my favourite books, but I did try to like this more than I ended up doing. I found appreciation for the author's love of Russian works, gently peppered into Nick's speech and Gorsky's private collection, as well as for what she set out to do. I do however think that the book would have been better with a different plot, or perhaps a better take at the one it had. Especially towards the end it falls flat and thin, with Gorsky's death taking place without a lot of the misery it causes in the original. Gatsby dies while thinking he was getting everything he wanted, Gorsky dies again and again in a tape Nikola can't stop watching. Daisy escapes Long Island without an explanation, while Natalia returns to give Nikola her whole life story.

It wasn't an utter waste of my time.
I didn't dislike it.
I just don't know how to describe how much I just wish to rewrite half of the book and give it a new plot, to let it surprise its audience and have it remembered as something else than just a reimagination that just didn't quite work as well as the original. I'll be looking forward to Goldsworthy's next novel, as long as it isn't based on another beloved masterpiece.

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