Book Of A Lifetime: The Great Gatsby, By F Scott Fitzgerald

I was 17 years old, faintly spotty and in love with Rupert Brooke. I had just been removed from my Home Counties boarding school, slap in the middle of the A-level course. My parents had become disillusioned with the academic goals of the institution after discovering that the entire school had been awarded a day's picnic to celebrate one girl's successful application to university. Instead, I was sent to a serious-minded London crammer. My EngLit tutor lived at the end of the Northern Line and twice a week I made the hour-long Tube journey to see her, using the anonymity of the carriage to refine my awkward attempts at presenting myself as an experienced smoker.

Recognising basic gaps in my education, Nancy Ellworth had asked me to read the entire Shakespeare canon, a job to be completed by the first half of the term. But during our tutorials we had begun The Great Gatsby and suddenly the innocently quiet boarding-school volume of my life was amplified into one of adult daring, glamour, and above all sex. Here was a code of behaviour, contingent on a murky but rather thrilling corruption, unrecognisable to a schoolgirl accustomed to the cosy backdrop of the leafy lanes of Kent.

During the Tube trip, the 'History Plays' lay neglected in my satchel, while Daisy Buchanan, her voice "full of money-that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it", claimed my heart. Scott Fitzgerald's story, set in Long Island, centres around the enigmatic Jay Gatsby, whose charismatic fascination is intensified by a mystery concerning his true identity and source of his huge wealth. His obsessive love for Daisy, the origins of which pre-date the book, and his subsequent efforts to regain her, despite her married state, become the catalyst for the sequence of tragedies that unfold. Here for me was a grown-up world, an existence fizzing with dance, drink and dangerously delicious temptation.

Of course Nick Carraway was the character with whom I felt most in emotional harmony, his quiet reflectiveness at odds with the Gatsby monied world. Initially excluded, Nick is simultaneously attracted and appalled by Gatsby's parties, while despite himself, he half-hopes that one day he might receive an invitation to join in.

I had never been to America; my father had designated the country banned territory "until you are old enough to understand it". But here in a book was all the sparkling, tinkling drama of transatlantic youth whose existence I had suspected and which I hoped was waiting for me. Just as Gatsby wanted to make his dreams come true, and "believed in the green light, the orgiastic future" even though it seemed at times elusive, so did I. Reading the novel, I felt like a girl on the brink of her life.

Juliet Nicolson's 'The Great Silence' is published by John Murray

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor