This month's guest edit comes courtesy of Hannah:
On a freakishly warm March day, Milly’s hyacinths wafting their sweet perfume into the room, it felt appropriate to be discussing that hot, heightened summer in West Egg. After the usual formalities – catch-ups, opening wine, identifying the gender of Lara’s baby using ancient Chinese detective work – we tucked into roast chicken and The Great Gatsby.
The book, we all agreed, was sublimely well written. Anne-Celine pointed to the description of the drunk soprano at one of Gatsby’s parties, her tears “when they came into contact with her heavily beaded eyelashes... assumed an inky colour, and pursued the rest of their way in slow black rivulets. A humorous suggestion was made that she sing the notes on her face”.
I loved the description of a party guest’s wife appearing suddenly at his side “like an angry diamond”. One of Mary’s favourite lines was on page one – “Reserving judgements is a matter of infinite hope”, which described how the narrator’s father had taught him to keep an open mind. And we all enjoyed the scene set in the Upper West apartment filled with so much furniture “that to move about was to stumble continually over scenes of ladies swinging in the gardens of Versailles”.
We all agreed, too, that despite it being written nearly 90 years ago, it felt fresh and un-dated. After his destruction of What A Carve Up, Ian compensated with sky-high praise, and has even started Tender Is The Night.
In terms of the book as a good read, AC was alone in finding it hard to enjoy and get into. The consensus, if I remember correctly, was that the story/plot was less well executed than the writing – or perhaps it has just aged less well. But this led to an interesting discussion about plot v writing: can great writing compensate for a bad plot? A few thought bad writing spoils everything, even a cracking story. But others pointed to Dan Brown as an example of terrible writing but a real page-turner. (Or was it just bad writing?) I think we all agreed, by the end, that Nick Carraway was the only character with any decency.
The Great Gatsby complemented The Artist, but we loved this movie less than the book. Milly and David, who both saw it in the New Year, pre-awards season hype, both adored it – which suggests that when you’re told, again and again, how amazing something is, you are likely to be more critical. David likened it to Singing In The Rain and may have been swayed by the beautiful star, Bérénice Bejo, but us girls weren’t as lust-blinded, even AC.
We all agreed it was original and charming. But the film’s biggest critics, Lara and I, found it mostly annoying – in Lara’s case, particularly the dog (whose biography is already being touted to non fiction publishers). I found it irritating in the way I find mime artists irritating, and I wasn’t engaged with either the characters or the plot. Ian thought there is a really great silent film out there waiting to be made, but this wasn’t it.
Interesting side discussions: how crazy people are in LA (“Oh my God your dog has to be a Gemini”); how the cast of Singing In The Rain were given speed; how good Homeland is. As for what we'll be watching and reading at the next Kensal Review, there's not a Dan Brown in sight.