I recently started reading This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald and I conclusively had to place it back on my bookshelf for a timeout. His intentionally factual description of Amory’s birth and own decisive choice of bringing up is difficult, cold and even dysfunctional. The book is a comment on the social status of the Princetonian upper class, however, his poetic expression mixed with any attachment removed by Fitzgerald’s manner makes any continuous effort to read, almost unrewarding. This may be due to my brain having been frazzled by the essay express route that is the month of May, however I decided to give myself a break and return to my biggest comfort: short stories.
Short stories are my Sunday toad in the hole of literature, so feeling frustrated I picked up Babylon Revisited, also by F Scott Fitzgerald, for a lovely 50p at the local charity shop. Charlie has returned to Paris and the reader is given a warm feeling as he enters his old, extremely familiar drinking hole. We, of course, haven’t encountered the bar before but it sure feels like we have. Charlie seems exceptionally friendly but he isn’t met with the warm overbearing welcome he seemed to be anticipating. Charlie furthers his exploration, after a brief whiskey, as to where his friends may be and finds himself at his sister-in-law’s house. This is not an accidental conclusion in anyway and it is here we meet the lovely Honoria.
The warmth between Charlie and Honoria is a raw, confident, unapologetically trusting connection. We learn of Charlie’s difficult history with substances, which repeatedly stumble back into the story in the physical form of Declan and Lorraine. Their incessant, and frankly exhausted, tenacious obsession with Charlie and his mentioned downfall contrasted with Helen’s neurotic disgust with Charlie presents an excellent, chaotic feel.
The characters are full, warm and very much accessible. The relationships are reminiscent of a real, fun (possibly too fun?) father attempting to be returned to his adoring daughter. An element I tend to enjoy most in literature is walking through a character’s habits, and perhaps that’s what makes them so real. Fitzgerald definitely makes Charlie real and accessible and has persuaded me to revisit ‘This Side of Paradise’. Babylon Revisited is undeniably full and soft, whilst addressing alcoholism and separated families, without ignoring the harshness of realistic feelings.
It is true to say that this short story has, not that it needed affirming, continued my love of short stories but reaffirmed my faith in Fitzgerald’s writing. If you have a spare hour or have a coach/train journey over the summer and don’t want to delve too deep into a long novel, but still enjoy a wonderful journey, I highly recommend Babylon Revisited.