NICK – Michael Farris Smith

Published by: No Exit Press
Pages: 304
Date released: 25/02/2021
Date read: 28/02/2021

Before Nick Carraway moved to West Egg and into Gatsby’s periphery, he was at the centre of a very different story – one taking place along the trenches and deep within the tunnels of World War I.

Floundering in the wake of the destruction he witnessed firsthand, Nick delays his return home, hoping to escape the questions he cannot answer about the horrors of war. Instead, he embarks on a transcontinental redemptive journey that takes him from a whirlwind Paris romance – doomed from the very beginning – to the dizzying frenzy of New Orleans, rife with its own flavour of debauchery and violence.

An epic portrait of a truly singular era and a sweeping, romantic story of self-discovery, this rich and imaginative novel breaths new life into a character that many know but few have pondered deeply. Charged with enough alcohol, heartbreak, and profound yearning to paralyse even the heartiest of golden age scribes, NICK reveals the man behind the narrator who has captivated readers for years.

I’ve always been a bit sceptical about prequels to well-known novels, wondering whether they were really necessary, or whether they were just a money spinner. As it has been many years since I last read The Great Gatsby, I decided to go in and read NICK blind, with no thought to its much loved sequel.

I don’t think it matters whether you link it to Great Gatsby or take it as a standalone book, it doesn’t detract from the fact that this is an excellent piece of work. Michael Farris Smith paints the horror of WWI so perfectly that you feel as if you’re on the front line, stepping over bits of your comrades, watching men holding their skull together, watching the life drain out of an enemy after you’ve shot them. Not only does he perfect the physical grief of war, but he finds the perfect balance when describing the emotional aftermath that hits Nick.

I’ll be honest, when reading or watching The Great Gatsby, I’ve never really wondered about Nick’s past. He’s just someone whose always been there. Yet Smith gives him such a dark and bright backstory that it’s hard to imagine it wasn’t already there in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s mind. It’s hard to forget that this is all a work of Smith’s imagination, not Fitzgerald’s, and yet it’s written with such a respect to the original that you can’t help but notice the love and passion he must have for his muse.

There is all manner of life and death through this book: love, sex, friendship, alcohol, prohibition, laughter, torture, suffering, depression, PTSD, murder, friends, family, your past, your future. It could quite easily have strayed into the fantastical with any of these difficult subjects, but it never does. Everything is touched upon and written about in the right quantity and with the right respect.

With the copyright on The Great Gatsby now lapsed, I’m sure we will be seeing many rewrites, prequels, and sequels over the coming years, but I can’t see any of them coming close to capturing the raw beauty that Smith and Fitzgerald have managed.

I haven’t read a Michael Harris Smith before this one, but he has shown me he is the master of writing about the darkness of the human soul, the complexities of human nature, the honesty that we are all the products of our own experience.

I have read a lot of books in my time, but I truly believe NICK is the book I have been unknowingly waiting for for almost 30 years.

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