Anyone who's read The Great Gatsby, or even just seen a film adaptation, will be familiar with Nick Carraway - Daisy Buchanan's second cousin who accidentally rents a house across the bay from her, and right next to Gatsby's huge mansion - but beyond his role as narrator he doesn't really exist.
For Fitzgerald, Nick seems little more than a convenient plot device, sitting watching a love triangle tragedy unfold around him, privy to the desires and actions of all sides, fully committed to none.
Now Michael Farris Smith has brought Nick into the limelight. From his Mid-West childhood, where his life stretched planned and orderly in front of him, through the chaos of World War 1 trenches, and a doomed love affair in Paris, to the violent saloons of New Orleans, Nick makes his winding way to a small house in West Egg on Long Island, and the green light shining across the Bay.
I'm normally a bit wary of 'spin off' books, which give characters lives way beyond the ones dreamed of by the original authors, but I read an online article by Michael Farris Smith about the inspiration behind Nick, and it somehow appealed.
If you saw The Great Gatsby as a romantic tale of unrequited love, played out against a backdrop of fabulous parties, huge mansions, and flash cars, then this probably isn't for you. It's far grittier and more violent - like Hemingway rather than Fitzgerald - but I very much enjoyed it. It's a story that could well have stood on its own - naive young man traumatized by war, and unable to fit back into the world he left behind - but being the story of Nick Carraway gives it an extra twist. We know where he's going to end up; just not how.
The Great Gatsby is now out of copyright so there are bound to be an endless number of spin-offs. Get in early and read this one.