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NICK by Michael Farris Smith

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Historical Fiction

By Swirl and Thread

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‘Life before Gatsby as narrator Nick Carraway steps out of the shadow and moves into the spotlight.’

NICK by Michael Farris Smith is published with No Exit Press and is a book that is sure to feature in many a conversation due to it’s subject matter. Nick is Nick Carraway, from F Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, The Great Gatsby, a character we never really knew too much about, until now. A brave move on the author’s behalf, writing about such an iconic figure as Nick Carraway and could be considered almost sacrilegious by many. But Michael Farris Smith wasn’t afraid to delve deep into the mindset of this deeply troubled man, providing the reader with a backstory and the events that shaped the life of this young man before arriving at West Egg and his renowned meet up with Jay Gatsby. At this point I must make a reference to the cover artwork for NICK, which was designed by Elsa Mathern, and pays homage to the 1925 original cover for The Great Gatsby by Francis Cugat.

Described as ‘an epic portrait of a truly singular era and a sweeping, romantic story of self-discovery, this rich and imaginative novel breathes new life into a character that many know only from the periphery’NICK is a book that reveals the torment and pain of a young man from the Mid-West who fought in the trenches of the First World War and who was seriously traumatised by its impact.

Nick Carraway left his home where life was relatively stable and his path had been pre-empted from an early age. His father had a hardware business and this was where Nick’s future would lie. But Nick wanted more, he wanted adventure and signed up to fight in WW1. Nick was completely unprepared for the sheer horror and numbing days of terror that lay ahead for him and his colleagues. The depiction of the tunnels, the trenches, the smells and the raw despair is dark and makes for very uncomfortable reading. For anyone who has read Sebastian Faulks Birdsong, you will understand what I mean.

Nick survives the war years and returns to the States but he has been forever changed, now suffering from PTSD, a permanent outsider looking in on the world. Having grown up living alongside a mother who suffered mental health issues, Nick wasn’t ready to go home to the Mid-West just yet and randomly selected New Orleans as his destination. But New Orleans does not give Nick the answers he is looking for and his downward trajectory continues as his experiences with the world and others continues in a very dejected and depressive spiral.

Eventually Nick does make it home but after two years there, a time he describes as purgatory, Nick moves to a small cottage in West Egg with the intent of taking up a position in Manhattan to learn about bonds. The rest, as they say, is history…

If you pick up NICK expecting a book filled with the glitz and glamour long associated with The Great Gatsby, you will be disappointed. NICK is not a party book. It is not a book filled with the decadence of a Baz Luhrmann movie. NICK is a book that disturbs and breaks the heart of the reader and fills you with a sense of what was lost forever and what could have been. I found the style of writing, at times, reminiscent of Hemingway, engrossed yet leaving me very unsettled as I turned the pages. It’s been years since I read The Great Gatsby so I really need to pick it up again to continue Nick’s story and to see if Michael Farris Smith’s interpretation impacts my view of it on a second reading. There will be critics who will say NICK should never have been written but I truly think the beauty and magic of this book is it will start a conversation and bring new readers into the mix, folk who have never perhaps read The Great Gatsby and who are now curious for more or folk like me, who have only ever read it once.

NICK is a very blunt reminder of the impact of the trauma of war and its aftermath. It is, at times, a very bleak read, one filled with a desolation and a deep sadness. A poignant story of self-discovery and the difficult journey en-route for one man. NICK is, as Kirkus Reviews states, ‘a thoroughly unconventional prequel’. It is a very powerful, shocking and harsh study of the character, Nick Carraway and a very fascinating lead into the opening of The Great Gatsby –

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had’.”
– Nick Carraway

(c) Swirl and Thread

Order your copy online here.

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