How could I not? It is one of my all time favourite books, and possibly the only one I have read multiple times.
But beyond that....well, I knew he and his wife Zelda were the darlings of the Jazz Age, and that he died far too young, probably due to his life of excess and alcoholism. And that's about it, I'm ashamed to say.
So when Allen & Unwin sent me a copy of West of Sunset by Stewart O'Nan, a fictionalised biographical novel covering the final three years of F Scott Fitgerald's life, I was instantly excited to learn more.
While, of course, not every intimate detail of his final years can be verified (hence, the 'fictionalised novel' part), Stewart O'Nan has painted a vivid picture of Scott's time in Hollywood in the years leading up to his death; the major movie studios, the stars, the writers, the affairs and the politics.
This engrossing, sometimes heartbreaking story follows the troubled and broke Scott as he tries to scrape together enough money to pay for Zelda's treatment in a mental asylum, and their daughter Scottie's education. His health is declining, his literary success is mostly forgotten, and his only option is to call on some old friends to give him a shot as a screenwriter. After moving to Hollywood, Scott falls in love with English gossip columnist Sheilah Graham and embarks on a passionate affair, while guiltily trying to maintain some sense of loyalty to the unstable Zelda.
The Golden Age of Hollywood is brought to life with fascinating depictions of stars including Joan Crawford and Humphrey Bogart, studio bosses, various directors and the other screenwriters holed up in the "Iron Lung", where movie scripts were churned out constantly, written and rewritten on a director's or producer's whim, until they were sometimes unrecognisable from the original drafts. I found this creative process both intriguing and depressing, and can imagine how stifling and frustrating it must have been for someone with Scott's talent. No wonder he drank.
Stewart O'Nan, on the other hand, was free to write this novel as he saw fit, and he did so beautifully. This bittersweet portrayal of Scott's struggle to keep his life together, and regular failure to do so, was written with sensitivity, grace and wit. O'Nan is no slouch himself; he has written many fiction and nonfiction books, including a collaboration with Stephen King.
With West of Sunset, we have, as author George Saunders says, "One brilliant American writer meditating on another - what's not to love?"
I certainly loved it, and I feel like I now know a little bit more about the man behind Gatsby.