August is the perfect month for a sultry party. Few people throw a better party than Jay Gatsby. For August’s A Book And A Bottle Damian has popped the champagne, put on his tuxedo and got in a whirl with The Great Gatsby. Helping him choose our #NovelPairings are James Franklin from Corney & Barrow and Simon Heafield from Foyles.
Reading The Great Gatsby makes you drunk, for all the central moral message is sobering. It’s a heady whirl of parties, half-caught conversations, popping corks and lethal cocktails.
Narrated by Nick Carraway, it tells the story of a summer in West Egg, New York, where the mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby pulls everyone into his glamorous orbit. Not everyone leaves this party alive. It’s not a long novel but it stays with you long after.
Published in 1925, it has come to embody the era. “Few novels are so closely identified with a period,” says Simon from Foyles. “Gatsby is the 1920s to many people.” Worth nothing it wasn’t a bestseller at the time and its middling success drove Fitzgerald to drink, famously he said “First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.”
Gatsby’s true identity is one of the novel’s central mysteries. Who is Gatsby? A cousin of Kaiser Wilhelm, speculates one woman. Another says: “I’m scared of him.” Still another: “I’ll bet he killed a man”. Where did he come from? He claims to be ‘an Oxford man’ and Nick seems to recognise him from the Army. Perhaps this guess is closest: “he’s a bootlegger…second cousin to the Devil.”
He is undoubtedly shady. Nick’s garden abuts Gatsby’s and he first glimpses him at night: “the silhouette of a moving cat wavered across the moonlight, and turning my head to watch it, I saw that I was not alone – fifty feet away a figure had emerged from the shadow of my neighbour’s mansion and was standing with his hands in his pockets regarding the silver pepper of the starts. Something in his leisurely movements and the secure position of if his feet upon the lawn suggested it was Mr Gatsby himself, come out to determine what share was his of our local heavens. …he gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone.”
The mystery of his identity, and the source of his wealth, is revealed. This was the time of Prohibition – 1920 to 1933 – yet booze flows at Gatsby’s legendary garden parties. “I like large parties, says Jordan, they’re so intimate.” But Gatsby is abstemious: “Sometimes in the course of gay parties women used to rub champagne in his hair; for himself he formed the habit of letting liquor alone.” He cannot afford to lose control.
The Bibulous-o-graphy for Gatsby is extensive and focuses on cocktails but there’s plenty of wine and champagne too. It ranges from Ale to Whisky. Few novels make you so thirsty.
“We have to start with bubbles,” says James from Corney & Barrow. “The book is awash with champagne. Wiston Estate Blancs des Blancs 2010 is one of the best English sparkling wines.” Certainly it’s what Gatsby would serve now if he was having a house party in the Sussex countryside but he was obsessed with conforming so would have stuck to France.
“Delamotte was founded 1760,” says James. “It’s one of the oldest houses.” As Gatsby would certainly have boasted. “It’s much more floral and buttery than the Wiston,” says Simon, admiring the bubbles.
Now the party’s started we get serious: Claret.
“St-Emilion is one of the prettiest villages in Bordeaux,” says James. “Now we have wine from all around the world but then France dominated and this is an absolute classic. Our own St-Emilion 2011 is a perfect example.”
“It smells like a library,” says Simon. “It tastes classic.” It is bold but restrained – it has none of Gatsby’s guile. And what about the wider scene, the era? “It has to be Sauternes,” says James. “Arguably one of the most famous dessert wines in the world. It’s got great cool climate acidity and then this intense sweetness from the Noble Rot.” “Could be a subtitle for the book,” nods Simon. And he’s right.
Champagne is too obvious and Claret is what Gatsby wants us to choose but Corney & Barrow Sauternes 2010 reveal the book’s true character. It is a bouquet of hothouse flowers with a moth asleep within, it is a divine sweetness built on rot, it is our utterly seductive #NovelPairing.