Time changes the way you see everything. Most of the time you don’t realise that a new context means you receive information in a different way. The context changes naturally with the passing of time, because the world becomes different and your personal relationship with the world evolves. In particular, you read things differently as you grow older.
Take the example of one of my favourite novels The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald. I first read it as a teenager and I must have reread it every decade since. The last time was when I was present for an extraordinary staged reading of the book by Elevator Repair Service that lasted most of a day. I loved it, and it remains in my memory as a special, intense occasion.
Each time I read The Great Gatsby, even though I know what will happen, it’s completely fresh. Fitzgerald’s writing is lyrical yet completely natural; some of his sentences stop you in your reading tracks because you need to savour them. The last time I read it, the character of the narrator, Nick, struck me as never before. This enabled me to understand how to change my previously abandoned novel Leaves, leading to a new character as narrator looking back. Thank you, Scott.
It was with a little trepidation then that I approached the widely-praised novel Gorsky by Vesna Goldsworthy. I was interested for many reasons, not least because Vesna will be speaking at 26 Wordstock this October. She is open about Gatsby being the model for Gorsky. This new novel updates the story to London today, with Gorsky as a Russian oligarch with a shady past and a hopeless romantic relationship to rekindle. The story echoes Gatsby throughout, London itself becomes a powerful character, and you derive reading pleasure from the book before your eyes alongside the one in your memory. I loved it.
Last week my Dark Angels trilogy was republished. This gave me the strange sensation of reading books I had first written many years earlier. Who was this author? He seemed familiar but separate from me. I was pleased to renew acquaintance with him in a week when a friend invited me for coffee to talk about being 60. “What should you have learned by the time you reach 60?” I surprised him by replying “Impatience”.
My younger self – at the time when I was writing the trilogy – would have said something different. “Patience” perhaps. But now there’s too much left to do and not enough time left to do it.
If you want to buy the trilogy in new editions, go here http://urbanepublications.com/book_author/john-simmons/ for 26 members (I’m sure you all are) type the code ‘trilogy’ at checkout to get one book free.