The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo is a historical Gatsby retelling. Nghi Vo’s debut novel follows Gatsby’s Jordan, with new and refreshing elements.
Immigrant. Socialite. Magician.
Jordan Baker grows up in the most rarefied circles of 1920s American society―she has money, education, a killer golf handicap, and invitations to some of the most exclusive parties of the Jazz Age. She’s also queer, Asian, adopted, and treated as an exotic attraction by her peers, while the most important doors remain closed to her.
But the world is full of wonders: infernal pacts and dazzling illusions, lost ghosts and elemental mysteries.
In all paper is fire, and Jordan can burn the cut paper heart out of a man. She just has to learn how.
Nghi Vo’s debut novel reinvents this classic of the American canon as a coming-of-age story full of magic, mystery, and glittering excess, and introduces a major new literary voice.
“Daisy, as pretty as she was, was never sweet either, though she sparkled so bright it was easy to think she was. It was easy to think that Daisy was many things.”
I can distinctly recall reading The Great Gatsby in high school and wanting to know more about Jordan Baker. Is that a sign that I’ve always been queer? Probably. When I saw that this retelling was about her, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. The idea of The Great Gatsby having queer, POC characters and fantasy? It was everything to me. My hopes were high, and, unfortunately, they fell flat with this book.
“I wondered if that was what love was, making someone forget the pain that gnawed at them and would not stop.”
I’ve read Nghi Vo’s other works and enjoyed them greatly for the historical fiction pieces that they were. This book is listed as a fantasy first, and historical fiction second. I think that this sets a false expectation for readers. It would be more accurately listed as a retelling first, historical fiction second, and fantasy last – if at all. The fantasy elements are there, but because Vo stuck so securely to the original Gatsby, they never were expanded upon in a way that made sense. I wanted more from the fantasy, and less from the chaos that is Daisy and Gatsby. I wanted a book about Jordan, and magic, and I don’t think that that’s what I got.
“He wanted something agreeable, something sweeter around the edges, but I was never very good at sweet.”
Because of my expectations for the fantasy in the book, it made it difficult to enjoy. This book is easily a much better-written version of The Great Gatsby, and I applaud that alone. However, it was too dedicated to being the same as the original tale, without expanding upon the elements that it was priding itself on in the summary. They were thrown in to make the story somewhat different, and that didn’t land. The representation, however, was very solid and I was pleased to see it. The audiobook was a very good way to enjoy this book, as I think if I were reading it visually, I would have enjoyed it less.
“When you’re alone so much, realizing that you’re not is terribly upsetting.”
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this audiobook in exchange for an honest review.