Christine Strelan - Between the Covers
The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald/Nicki Greenberg
Allen and Unwin 2007
Imagine: one of the best novels ever, one of the most beautifully written pieces of prose in the English language, reconfigured as a comic strip, with odd little creatures representing the human characters. I approached it with extreme caution. It could have been a cringe-worthy disaster, it could have been a clumsy abomination of whimsical images and dumbed-down text. But no, Nicki Greenbergs graphic adaptation of Fitzgeralds brilliant novel is simply marvellous, old sport. For a start, she uses only direct quotes from the book, and succeeds in making the subtle, poetic language immediately accessible. Secondly, her lovely drawings provide an imaginative accompaniment to Fitzgeralds imagery. Executed in sepia tones, they suit the visions conjured by the 1925 novel.
My initial dread of tweeness evaporated as soon as I started reading. Gatsby himself is an elegant seahorse, Daisy Fay a frail, fluffy bird, and her brutish husband Tom resembles Fungus the Bogeyman. Greenberg excels at evoking the magic and glamour of Gatsbys flapper-filled parties, drawing his house peopled by wildly revelling hybrid creatures. She also manages to convey the emptiness behind it all, and Gatsbys loneliness and romantic longing, as he stands in the darkness, gazing across the water at Daisys light.
No doubt some Fitzgerald purists will be outraged by Greenbergs interpretation; personally, I was horrified by Robert Redfords lame cinematic attempt in the title role back in the 70s. But The Great Gatsby is so good its pretty well inviolable; they could stage it as a country and western musical and its glorious integrity would remain unsullied.
Greenbergs adaptation is an excellent way to lure younger readers into exploring an 82-year-old text. Late teens who love graphic novels and anime would probably enjoy it.
Of course, Greenbergs book wont replace Fitzgeralds original novel. Everyone should read that as well, several times; this is just a way of presenting Gatsby from a different and highly inventive angle... So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. Sigh.
Books reviewed are available at the Book Warehouse in Keen Street, Lismore, and at Lismore Square.