World War I is raging and Nick Caraway among the young soldiers who fight in France. His life threatened when he lies in the trench, he is looking for distraction in Paris on those few days he is off duty. He falls for a woman but times like these are not made for love. When he returns to the US in 1919, he suffers from what we today call post-traumatic stress syndrome. He does not know where to go or what to do with his life and thus ends up in New Orleans. The lively city promises forgetting but there, too, he is haunted in his dreams.
I was so looking forward to reading Michael Farris Smith’s novel about Nick Caraway since I have read “The Great Gatsby” several times, watched the film adaptations even more often and totally adore Fitzgerald’s characters. Knowing that the plot was set in the time before Nick meets Jay Gatsby, it was clear that this novel would not be a kind of spin-off, but I wasn’t expecting something with absolutely no connection to the classic novel at all. Apart from the protagonist’s name and the very last page, I couldn’t see any link and admittedly I was quite disappointed since I had expected a totally different story.
First of all, having read Fitzgerald so many times, I have developed some idea of the character Nick. He has always been that gentle and shy young man who is attentive and a good listener and friend. He never appeared to be the party animal who headlessly consumes alcohol and goes to brothels. Therefore, the encounters with women in “NICK“ do not fit to my idea of the character at all. He also never made the impression of being totally traumatized by his war experiences which, on the contrary, is the leading motive in this novel.
Roaring Twenties, lively New York party life, people enjoying themselves – this is the atmosphere I adored in The Great Gatsby, none of this can be found in “NICK”. It starts with exhausting war descriptions, something I avoid reading normally and I wasn’t prepared for at all. Pages after page we read about soldiers fighting, this might be attractive for some readers, unfortunately, this is no topic for me. After depressing war scenes, we have gloomy and depressed Nick not knowing how to cope with the experiences he made in France. No glitter here, but a lot of fire and ashes.
Reading “NICK” without having “The Great Gatsby” in mind might lead to a totally different reading experience. For me, sadly, a disappointment in many respects for which also some beautifully put sentences and an interesting character development could not make amends.
When the police is called to a crime scene, they are prepared for the worst: a child’s voice could be heard during the 911 call. Flashback to a time fifteen years before. Maddie works as a teacher in Bulgaria while her best friend Jo is based with a NGO in Macedonia. During one of her visits, Maddie gets to know Jo’s British friends, among them Ian to whom she feels immediately attracted. Times are hard for the two young women abroad and not everything runs smoothly, misunderstandings, too much alcohol and words that better had not been said. Their friendship does not last in contrast to Maddie’s love for Ian, but their love was not meant to be immediately and now the big question if it ever was meant to be looms over them.
Annie Ward’s is a psychological thriller in which nothing is what it seems, in which you have to re-assess all relationships, all events narrated and all characters again and again to get a complete picture which differs a lot from the first impression you had. The fact that different characters’ perspectives are given alternately and that the story is told at different points in time, all mixed up so that you spring forward and backward and sometimes get the same event two times, does not make it always easy to keep an overview. Even though this to a certain extent supports the suspense that is created, for me it also contributed to some lengthiness.
There are two strong aspects in the novel that I found quite remarkable and authentic. First of all, it clearly shows how detrimental bad relationships can be. Being literally addicted to a person never is a good basis for a partnership since it easy opens the door for abuse and oppression. Second, the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder should never be underestimated. There are experiences that you will never forget and you never really come to terms with. They shape your personality if you want or not and have an impact on your behaviour, relationships and whole life.
“Beautiful Bad” could certainly surprise me with all the twists and turns and was cleverly crafted to lead you in a lot of wrong directions.
2003, Cleveland. He has just arrived at uni when he meets Emily and falls for her immediately. They love each other passionately, just as they love Ecstasy. When Emily moves back home to Elba and splits up, he loses control and is expelled from college soon after. The army promises an interesting future – or better: a future at all. As a medic he is briefly trained before they send him to Iraq. A year in the Middle East, a year in the war. What he sees is unimaginable and to avoid the pictures in his head and to deal with the everyday loss of comrades, he needs more and more pills. When he returns, he cannot find a way back in life. With Emily, he’s got an on-and-off relationship which is mainly marked by their common use of heroin. A normal life seems possible, but the constant need of money for more drugs and the fact of passing out frequently hinders them from actually having it.
“Cherry” is the story of an average young man whose life spirals down into the abyss. It’s not the one big event that throws him off course, it’s a bit here and there, a relationship that breaks up, not getting enough credits at college, simply losing the aim in life. Of course, the experiences made in the war are a major event and it is hard to imagine that anybody can live through this without serious psychological disturbances or PTSD. The novel brings out the worst that drugs can do to somebody and it underlines how long this can go on without people around noticing anything, how long they can keep up appearances before wreaking havoc.
Yet, it is not only the topic, the narrator’s life that is shown bluntly by Nico Walker. What he does masterly, too, is to adapt the language to the situation:
The car bomb did what car bombs do and four were dead in the market. It would have been more but the sheep took most of the blast. So you had flesh and blood and wool on the pavement. You had bloodstains on the pavement, little lakes of blood.
There is no reason to embellish anything, it’s just the blunt reality that Walker describes in the most brutal and direct way. Most of the soldiers were “Cherries” which gives the novel its title: soldiers who have never been in a fight and whose behaviour is unpredictable and therefore a danger to the whole platoon. They were ill prepared in every possible way, but the worst is that they were ill prepared to return to a life in the civilian society. Walker doesn’t beat about the bush, his novel accuses their treatment, as well as the way drug addicts are taken care of, or rather: not taken care of. He shows a reality that nobody wants to see but which exists among us. The style of writing might not be for everybody, but it is perfect for this novel.