On_Booze“Perfectly respectable girl, but only been drinking that day.”

I always felt that F. Scott Fitzgerald and I would get on really well, if only because we both write, have drinking problems, and we’re both fond of jazz music and fiesty women. I’ve read a couple of his books and have a certain fondness for The Great Gatsby, which, while probably not the Great American Novel, is pretty excellent. I found this book in Hatchards, an amazing bookshop in the middle of London, and figuring that Fitzgerald and alcohol was a winning combination in any situation, decided to give it a go.

The book is various snippets and clippings from Fitzgerald’s notebooks from the twenties and thirties, as well as autobiographical stories detailing his life as he lived it, and throwing new light on what it was actually like to be living in the Jazz Age and acting out the stories he put onto the page. A review from the New Yorker said, “More than any other writer of those times, Fitzgerald had a sense of living in history.” I think that’s very true – the man knew that times were changing and was often saddened by those changes.

The book is split into six parts, each of them dealing with something different. One is a selection of letters to friends; another talks of his struggles with insomnia. A third tells us why he fell in love with New York and why he always considered the city his true home. It paints a picture of a world post-crash where everyone had time to party and there seemed to be little in the way of responsibility. My favourite section, however, is “Show Mr. and Mrs. F. to Number —–“, which details every hotel that Scott and Zelda stayed in between 1920 and 1933. Each hotel gets a paragraph or a couple of lines, revealing a few candid details about what the hotel looked like, who else was staying there, or even just what they had to eat or drink.

Despite the book being called On Booze and one having an expectation of all the stories being laced with martinis, there is very little actual drinking going on, although Fitzgerald happily acknowledges that it was happening, and indeed happening all the time. There is more here about his insecurities and perhaps what caused him to become such a drunk. It’s an interesting read (although not espcially sparkly or quick), but his fiction is better and there’s something rather disjointed about the whole exercise.

Probably the most valuable thing I found in the book, however, are the words I want on my gravestone: “Then I was drunk for many years, and then I died.”