I've been on a bit of a roll of late! After completing Hitchhiker's in a single day, I snapped up The Last Tycoon by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and after three days of nothing to do except read, I wish to report, I have finished that too.
Now, I have several things to say on the subject.
Firstly, as I have found with both of the previous two books by F. Scott Fitzgerald I have read, The Last Tycoon is gorgeously crafted, atmospheric and blustery. It started off with considerably less than the usual oomp, but by a third of the way in, I was well won over by the atmoshphere, which leads me to mention the second thing.
F. Scott Fitzgerald had this uncanny propensity which I think can be fairly blamed for how much I adore his writing. My Dad always says that when someone is telling a story, you can always tell whether they were really there or not, because they mention things that otherwise people would never think to mention. Like an old, close friend of mine once remarked that when she had been in Paris, at the top of the Eiffel Tower, she could hardly breathe because the wind rushed your breath right back down your throat. And an old teacher of mine once remarked that when she had been living in London, the sign of Spring was not birds or blossoms or sunshine, but the absence of the nip in the cold. I truly believe that unless they had experienced it, they wouldn't have thought to mention things like this. It makes it so authentic. I'd never thought of putting it this way before, but this is exactly what F. Scott Fitzgerald does.
The windsheild wiper ticked domestically as a grandfather's clock. Sullen cars were leaving the wet beaches and starting back to the city. Further on they ran into fog - the road lost boundaries on either side, and the lights of cars coming towards them were stationary until just before they flared past.
'It rained the day I came. Such an awful rain - so loud - like horses weeing.'
Do you see what I mean? And though these passages sound fresh and real by themselves, mixed into the context of the story, they are leaping with other emotions. Imagine the first passage not at all as dreary and wet, but as sparkling and exciting, and a moment shared by two anticipating lovers after a hot, sunny, salty, Californian day by the sea. The context makes it blare out with brighter colours, doesn't it? I love the atmosphere of F. Scott Fitzgerald's writing. His authenticity and his smells, sounds and sights are grittily superb. Hmm! I feel like I could just inhale whole paragraphs and it would remove dinginess from my lungs.
Thirdly, I would like to admit that I was somewhat astounded to discover, half way through the book, that it was unfinished. I would have liked to have been told that. Ah well. It has been a real experience! It went something like this...
The Last Tycoon was incomplete and only in rough form when F. Scott Fitzgerald passed away in 1940 at the age of 44. He had suffered from tuberculosis hemorrhaging and several heart attacks. However, his extensive notes for the novel gave Edmund Wilson, (close friend of Fitzgerald's), enough to work with to complete a brief outline of the intentions for the missing end to the story and polish what had actually been written. The novel was published in 1941.
I reached the end of Fitzgerald's work this morning, and might have been content to let it lie where it was, as the last sentences gave me enough to contemplate, except Edmund Wilson's outline for the end of the novel was included, and this path I trotted down readily. I think that to have the last half or so of a book described briefly and unemotionally in the space of five pages is like a smack in the jaw regardless of which book it is. What I read of Fitzgerald's was like the story and the ending was like a 'where are they now' column in the paper. And what happened to them all in the end, was a lot to take in. I imagine that if it had all been written out, the end would have been very powerful, but to hear it all so quickly and bluntly was gut-wrenching. Like hearing the first fifty years of her life story from your grandmother and then waking up to be told by a surgeon that she died in the night. That was what it was like. It hits like a ton of bricks, and is so poignant and metaphorical, I feel. I think to hear the story in this way makes it even more brilliant than it might have been. It realises the savage irony represented in the story in the novel's own story. It was incredible. I think perhaps it's time for me to have a good long think.