Finishing ‘The Great Gatsby’ on Saturday morning after a peculiar combination of fried bread, tinned mackerel and pâté, all washed down with coffee and concentrated grapefruit juice, I head out to find F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The only material I had ever read were a collection of short stories given to me by my great friend Richard for my birthday (The Diamond as Big as the Ritz), which I remember enjoying immensely. I was determined to read more. He only wrote four novels in his short life, so it shouldn’t put me out too much to use my Saturday to seek out a man’s life work.
I set out for the Decitre bookshop in the Presqu’ile on Bellecour over the Pont Wilson. Fitzgerald published four novels in his lifetime (This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and Damned, Tender is the Night and The Great Gatsby) with a fifth (The Love of the Last Tycoon) published posthumously. Any one will do. I approach the attendant and ask him. He smiles and replies in perfect English, ‘Second aisle on the right, bottom shelf.’ I thank him.
The Great Gatsby, The Great Gatsby, The Great Gatsby, The Great Gatsby, The Great Gatsby, The Great Gatsby, The Great Gatsby, The Great Gatsby…and so it goes on for another 24 copies. Obviously, the words F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby mean the same thing here, as there are no other titles available, except, rather oddly, an A-level Key Notes Study Guide to the afore mentioned title.
I had heard of another smaller, more specialised English bookshop somewhere near Perrache station called Eton Bookshop, so I ask the attendant if he knows of it but he says he’s doesn’t. Slightly annoyed I decide he’s lying and head out across Bellecour to find it.
An hour later I’m still scything my way up and down the streets of Perrache on the verge of explosion. I have asked many people but each time I receive a rather nervous shake of the head. Somebody started to tell me but then stopped in mid sentence as though she had already said too much. In the end I decide it must have closed down, never existed, or that the word ‘Eton’ in this rather run down part of town, is not associated with bookselling.
Later back at home I realise I have nothing to read except the rather naff selection of books on my shelf (Auster and The Snow Leopard excluded) left by the previous occupant. Most books don’t deserve a reread, certainly not these. Like reading the football scores twice in the hope your team won.
Great books can be read over and over again at will. You know the plot, you’ve met the characters. Now it’s time to find out what it all means. I start to reread 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 criticising anyone,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’