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Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of The Great Gatsby Paperback – 6 Mar 2014

4.3 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Virago (6 Mar. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844087689
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844087686
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.8 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 138,094 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


[Sarah Churchwell] tells the story crisply and intelligently, judiciously deploying Fitzgerald's eminently quotable literary remains, and also Zelda's, which are often even better, in a sprightly, enjoyable and slightly strange book: part "biography" of the novel, part sketch of the roaring 1920s, part brief account of the second half of Fitzgerald's life. Churchwell is perceptive and well-informed (Guardian)

A perfect book to read alongside The Great Gatsby. Excellent (William Leith Evening Standard)

This book has as much spirit as gin fizz cocktails (Lady)

A treasury of new material. Churchwell adds considerably to our understanding of the early 1920s, and how life for Fitzgerald played into the development of his art . . . Engaging deeply with the facts on the ground, the richly chaotic matrix that was Fitzgerald's life, Sarah Churchwell's Careless People takes us back there (Jay Parini Literary Review)

A suggestive, almost musical evocation of the spirit of the time (Thomas Powers London Review of Books)

The wonder of Careless People . . . is that it rewinds the years and allows the reader to appreciate again just how well Fitzgerald reflected his times - Book of the Week (Nicholas Blincoe Sunday Telegraph)

Investigates subject after subject with subtle intelligence . . . you find yourself caught up in the excitement of her search - Book of the Week (John Carey Sunday Times)

A literary spree, bursting with recherché detail, high spirits and the desperate frisson of the jazz age (Robert McCrum Observer)

Book Description

A fascinating look at the autumn of 1922, when F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda returned to New York and the seeds for The Great Gatsby were sown

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is an interesting read but it's perhaps trying to do too many things at once which serve to detract from, rather than strengthen, its import and impact. Churchwell is writing a biography of the Fitzgeralds, especially during the year of 1922 when the Great Gatsby was set, even though it wasn't written and completed until a few years later. She is also offering interpretations and readings of the novel itself, alongside contextual information on e.g. prohibition, the gangster-crooks who built America etc. And, as a third and major strand, she excavates an unsolved murder that took place in 1922 and which she rather forces into what remains a tenuous relationship with Fitzgerald's novel.

The narrative itself is fragmented with short sections mimicking the scrapbooks which the Fitzgeralds themselves kept, and the constant switching between the various stories does give this a slightly bitty feel, as if it's written for a presumed hyperactive audience with a short attention span.

That said, this is a lively read which captures the frenetic atmosphere of the 1920s, and the way Fitzgerald himself lived, encapsulated and helped to construct the idea of the Jazz Age. I especially liked the way Churchwell makes extensive use of Fitzgerald's own words from letters, essays and other writings - though her refusal to use footnotes means that it's a little fiddly to trace the sources as we need to go though separate notes sections and then a bibliography.

Churchwell's articulation of the relationship between art and life is nuanced rather than simplistic: this would be a good read for anyone wanting to know more about the fascinating Fitzgeralds, the evolution of The Great Gatsby, and the world which it depicts.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
"The Great Gatsby" was first published in 1925, but Fitzgerald set the novel in 1922, when he and Zelda returned to New York. Fitzgerald was planning his new novel and he wanted to do something different - it would take him two years to finish Gatsby and, in a way, this is a biography of a novel. For, in this book, the author cleverly takes us through the time that Scott and Zelda spent in New York - the events that influenced him and the eighteen months he spent in Great Neck, just outside the city.

1922 was a remarkable year, which began with the publication of "Ulysses" and ended with "The Waste Land". This book seeks the origins of Gatsby, reconstructs the Jazz Age, and shows how Fitzgerald reflected the stories around him. The major news story at that time was that of the murder of Eleanor Mills, a married woman, and her lover Edward Hall; who were shot through the head near an abandoned farmhouse, their love letters scattered around the corpses. The murder of the adulterous couple held America spellbound and was in the newspapers for virtually the entire time that Fitzgerald was in New York.

When Scott and Zelda decided to look for a house in Great Neck, it was a former fishing village that was becoming popular with the rich and famous - "the Hollywood of the East" and which he re-named 'West Egg' in his novel. His time there is exhausting to even read about, with a backdrop of financial swindles, scandals and fads, car accidents, bootleggers, speakeasies, endless parties, bad behaviour and epic drinking binges. Throughout "Careless People", Sarah Churchwell ties everything together into how it relates to The Great Gatsby, with the chapters of her book corresponding to the chapters of the novel.
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Format: Hardcover
"Nothing could survive our life"; these words Zelda Fitzgerald wrote to her husband F. Scott Fitzgerald, a year before his death. It was an early elegy to their life together; the copious drinking and partying for the 15 or so years they lived together drove them to a sad, sad end. How much of Scott's talent was dissipated due to their life style, both in America and in France? Could they have been saved from ruin if they had been able to control their drinking? I suppose we'll never know if Scott would have produced even more great novels and if Zelda would have produced her own work, past the autobiographical novel she did write.

Sarah Churchwell has written an excellent, though somewhat confusing, book about the Fitzgeralds, "The Great Gatsby", the "Roaring 20's" and the Jazz Age. Oh, and also about the notorious (for the time) "Hall-Mills" murder case of 1922. What did the murder of a married New Jersey minister and his married girlfriend have to do with the Fitzgeralds and the writing of "The Great Gatsby"? Not much that I can see, although Churchwell tries to make the case that the murders somehow influenced Fitzgerald's viewing of the rich world of Long Island high society. And this is where Sarah Churchwell goes wrong. Her story of the Fitzgeralds and their milieu - both real and fictional - does not need the Hall and Mills murders to be told.

I can't imagine the conversation between Sarah Churchwell and her editor and publisher when she approached them with the story she was writing about the Fitzgeralds and their age...and the Hall and Mills murder case. Surely someone involved in the project tried to tell Churchwell that the theory about the murders influencing Fitzgerald's writing was just not important - or provable - enough to be explored as part of the book.
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