Nick by Michael Farris Smith - review by David Annand

David Annand

Life Before Gatsby



No Exit Press 320pp £12.99

If you’re going to borrow a character from another novel, the established approach is to take a vividly realised but underused bit-part player and put them centre stage. Jean Rhys did this with Jane Eyre’s Bertha Mason in Wide Sargasso Sea; George MacDonald Fraser took Harry Flashman from Tom Brown’s School Days and found enough in him to write twelve books about the old bounder.

It’s an interesting move on the part of Michael Farris Smith, then, to fire the starting gun on homages to The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald’s masterpiece came out of copyright in January this year; prepare yourself for a glut of zombie mash-ups) by focusing not on, say, the coolly intriguing Jordan Baker or the terrible Tom Buchanan, but on narrator Nick Carraway, a man whose role is to operate unobtrusively on the sidelines, noticing and, famously, reserving judgement.

Farris Smith notes in his introduction that, despite Nick being central to The Great Gatsby, we know only three things about him: ‘He fought in the Great War, he was from the Midwest, and he was turning thirty.’ His project in Nick is to summon from this brief biography a

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