Book Review: The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

Book Review: The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher, Tordotcom, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I was immediately intrigued when I heard that a fantasy retelling of The Great Gatsby told from Jordan Baker’s perspective was in the works. I’ve always been fascinated by The Great Gatsby, both by the characters and Fitzgerald’s writing style. It’s not the most accessible of novels, despite its brevity, but there’s something magnetic about it, much as there is that same special magnetism surrounding the title character himself. I was very interested in seeing how these characters translated in the hands of another, with magic added to the mix. The author did a pretty great job capturing the tone and feel of the original while still making the story their own.

The imagery is truly stunning, and captures the core essence of a Gatsby party as portrayed in the original novel to perfection. But the narrative itself is muddled and hard to follow. The inside of Jordan’s head is a vague and confusing place to be. This felt true to the original, but the muddy quality of the narrative made it difficult to become fully invested, and I found myself putting the book down after reading only a handful of pages and only reluctantly picking it back up. I just couldn’t connect. While this is something I often excuse in classic fiction like The Great Gatsby, I have a harder time looking past it in a new release, even when said new work is a retelling.

I appreciated how the author incorporated discussion of race and sexuality without ever actually falling into a diatribe on the topics, and I felt like Jordan was a really great vessel through which to explore those topics. I also felt like the characterizations for Nick, Daisy, Tom, and Gatsby himself were absolutely spot on. But there was something about getting the entirety of the story from Jordan’s perspective that made the whole book feel like a fever dream, which is more than likely why it took me so long to plow through its less than 300 pages.

The Chosen and the Beautiful is a unique, interesting take on what has been labeled by some as the Great American Novel. I do think it’s absolutely worth reading, especially if you’re a fan of the original. Just be content with taking your time as you journey through it, and don’t be surprised if the depth you feel sure is lurking beneath the surface manages to evade you. It’s much like a Gatsby party in that way.

You can purchase the book from Blackwells | Bookshop.Org (Support Independent Bookstores)Amazon US | Amazon UK

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