Book of the Week: Careless People – Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of The Great Gatsby by Sarah Churchwell

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One of the many strengths of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is how, beyond telling a story, it captured the spirit of a time, depicting the Jazz Age of the early 1920s in all its decadent glory – something the recent movie version tried to reinterpret with mixed results.

Just how closely the book captured the ethos of the time and how Fitzgerald managed the trick is only now being explored.

In Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Making of The Great Gatsby, professor of American literature and broadcaster Sarah Churchwell explores two stories of the autumn of 1922. The first is that of Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, returning to New York upon the publication of Fitzgerald’s fourth book, Tales of the Jazz Age, and falling into the heady whirl of that Jazz Age in full flight. The second story is much darker, a chronicle of a double murder in New Jersey, the so-called “crime of the decade.” The crime, nearly forgotten today, forms the dark subtext of the novel Fitzgerald began planning that autumn in New York, the novel that he set in those few months of haunted debauchery, The Great Gatsby.

Churchwell’s book is a marvel of biography, social history, crime story and literary analysis, a dizzying journey into the past and into the heretofore unexamined heart of one of the 20th century’s most beloved novels – consider pairing Careless People and the novel at its core for true book club magic.