Vesna Goldsworthy’s Gorsky, a Gatsby for the modern age

When I purchased Gorsky, I didn’t know that it was essentially a retelling of The Great Gatsby set in modern day London, but it didn’t take me long to work it out. From the off, we have Nick, a poor Serbian bookseller who ends up befriending a mysterious Russian billionaire who moves to London’s upper class Kensington and Chelsea in order to build a mansion and win back the love of his life, the beautiful Natalia. In order to do so, he puts on lavish parties and employs Nick to put together the greatest private library in Europe. The Gatsby parallels are not subtle and sometimes, a tad too obvious.

However, despite the heavy borrowing from Fitzgerald’s classic, which Goldsworthy herself readily acknowledges, there is much to be praised in this entertaining debut.

On a personal level, I can relate a lot to our narrator and author. Goldsworthy is from Serbia and , much like me, our narrator, Nikola Kimovic fled his native homeland during the Balkan civil wars. Although our countries were on opposite sides of the war, there is much I recognise in Kimovic’s behaviour and reactions. Although England has been his home now for a while, he works well as a narrator as his character is always one step away from the centre of action. Although he blends in, has a job and makes friends, the reader gets the impression that he is sometimes merely  observing the action and changes taking place around him, taking note. It is clear that Nick is attracted and drawn into London’s world of riches and hedonism, so different to the sparse, urban communism he knew at home.  I also completely understand why he is drawn into the world of the Russians. As Goldsworthy writes in her Acknowledgments, the Balkan culture has always been intertwined and drawn to the Russian authors. I have felt this too and I loved playing Russian Author Bingo as Goldsworthy namedropped the greats throughout the novel. Although my heritage might lend more to its roots from the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, I have always loved the great Russian writers and the names that sound so familiar to me. I suppose that is the beauty that you get with a multicultural country, and a nice reminder that there is more that we have in common than that which divides us.

Moving on, let me tell you about the plot. This echoes the journey taken by Gatsby and has  a similarly tragic ending. This time it is played out against 2010s London, with the unreal and almost sickening riches the city offers illustrated by Gorsky’s incredible house, the lavish parties and the unstable characters that Nick meets along the way. My favourite scenes, though, are those in Fynch’s bookshop where Nick works and where he first meets Gorsky and receives his task; to fill Gorksy’s new library with the greatest works ever written, with first editions and something to seduce anyone, whatever their tastse. Only a true book lover could have written these passages and I purposely read these sections slower, to savour them all the more.

Goldsworthy also tells a good tale of London now and her observations of the sickening amount of money being brought in by billionaires, money the source of which we can’t quite pin down, is wise.

How can the human capacity for happiness continue to take in such luxuries?

I’ve never been quite comfortable with excess displays of cash and wealth, perhaps due to my background, and it never struck me as an English thing to do either, to be too obvious with your wealth. The female characters here have little else to do than to be beautiful servants to money, marrying rich men that they don’t truly love, as in Natalia’s case, and pursuing wealth at any chance, like her best friend, and Nick’s lover, Gery.  Natalia it seems has little choice but to flow with the wind, and when Gorsky comes back into her life after many years, she puts up little fight. We catch glimmers of her potential; she is an art history graduate who wants to put together an exhibit about a Russian artist, but she never actually achieves her ambition, despite the great amounts of cash and opportunity at her disposal. I always feel slightly deflated when a novel has next to no strong female role models but I can see why it is done here, and so it is not  a complete turn off.

All in all, lovers of Gatsby should definitely give Gorsky a go, if for nothing but to check off the Gatsby parallels. I enjoyed this novel, for its literary references and for its perfect portrait of trying to find a life and a role as a foreigner in a city of mega wealth.

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