What Gatz and Fifty Shades of Grey have in common

Greetings from my holiday in Holland where it is raining relentlessly. I’m used to spending my holidays in Holland in the rain but this year there is the vague consolation that I would be equally as wet and cold in London. As indeed I was on Friday when I went to see Gatz with my friend Julia. Gatz lasts about eight hours and is the entire text of The Great Gatsby read aloud with no deletions or additions. The set up is that an office worker can’t work his computer so starts reading a book instead and gradually his co-workers join in. There are four intervals and during every single one I overheard a snippet of Fifty Shades of Grey conversation. Old, young, male, female, black and white were all talking about a book in an interval at the theatre. During the final interval, Julia and I stood on the balcony looking out at the rain discussing what other books might enjoy a Gatz treatment. As ever, I wanted to introduce food and drink into the process and was imagining a version of Brideshead Revisited where the audience get to get to taste the strawberries and drink the champagne. The bit of me that secretly longs to go on murder weekends at country house hotels was writing ever larger audience participation into the process. But, as I suddenly realised, I didn’t really want to go and see another eight hour play. I’d wanted to see Gatz because it was there, in the same way that I wanted to read Fifty Shades of Grey because it was there. I admire and am curious about the unexpected, about things that jump through hoops of cynicism to thrive in the real and wide world. Imagine the legions of people that must have said about both these projects, ‘well, that will never work.’ I’m not grudging the nay sayers their opinions, I’m just loving the fact that the people involved just carried on driving through and achieved success.

So, going to another eight hour play and reading another erotic trilogy are not on my list of things to do. (Not knowing much about theatre, I’m not sure how likely it is that more eight hour plays will follow, but we’ll be drowning in erotic trilogies in book land for some time to come.) What I am interested in in what is the next thing will be that, like a goldfish flinging itself out of its bowl, will take a leap of faith and end up, not gasping for breath on the carpet but swimming in faster, fresher waters. Because it excites me. Because it makes a change from reading ‘Death of the book’ articles. Because it shows that it can be done.

And that’s what I really love about Fifty Shades. If a few months ago someone had said that there would be a book that would break all previous records  no one would have believed it.

And in case you’re wondering what Fifty Shades looks like in Dutch…

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10 thoughts on “What Gatz and Fifty Shades of Grey have in common

  1. Records in publishing will continue to be broken as long as people are still literate and there is growth in purchasing power. How many books you sell doesn’t just depend, or even primarily depend, on the book’s literary merit: it depends largely on the customers’ capacity to buy it. That is why Robson and Jerome, not The Beatles, hold (or held) the record for the largest number of albums sold in a single decade.

    The situation at the top of the fiction chart is, in my very prejudiced opinion, less bad now than it was when the single biggest selling fictional work of all time was ‘The Hobbit’ . Between ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Fifty Shades’, we had of course to go through the Harry Potter nonsense.

  2. I haven’t read ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ purely because I assume it is badly written tosh. However, as you rightly remark, it has become a frequent topic amongst my friends and many ask if I have read it.

    Time to challenge my preconceptions and see what all the fuss is about.

  3. Resonating here. Ive just read Great Gatsby whilst on holiday in lovely hot Crete. My friend is reading Fifty Shades of Grey. Im not planning to read it. Gatsby was amazing. Considering its almost 100 years old? So modern.

    1. I read ‘The Great Gatsby’ about a year ago. It is one of the favourite books of a former tutor. Since I read it, I have seen it recommended on Twitter by Susan Hill (the Susan Hill). I was very disappointed with it. The first couple of pages are a textbook example of how not to write in a contemporary style: a father’s advice to his son. I nearly broke my jaw with yawning. Susan Hill enjoined me to go back to it for the quality of the writing after I had commented that I thought it was little more than a cocktail party and a car crash. Can somebody explain to me which character I am supposed to sympathise with or despise? They all seemed shallow to me.

      1. I agree about the beginning. But once you get going its fab. The scene in the flat in the afternoon was excellent. I sympathise with Gatsby. The rich people are shallow and immoral. He fell in love with one of them, everything that happened to him was about that.

  4. ‘The Great Gatsby’ is one of my favourite books, but I can see why you find it wordy by modern standards William.

    I won’t be going to see Gatz or the new film of ‘The Great Gatsby’ that’s due out at the end of the year. I have a picture of Gatsby in my mind’s eye and I don’t want to spoil it. Besides, you’d have to tie me to a chair to make me sit still for eight hours, whatever the play.

    1. I sympathise with your wanting to preserve the image you have constructed. I feel the same way about ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’.

      My friend, Michael Stewart, wrote a play called ‘The Shadow of Your Hand’, in which a woman is tied to a chair for a large part of the action, but this is part of the piece itself, not an attempt to use duress to get some-one to watch it, and I don’t think it lasts as long as eight hours.

      Further to Cathy’s original blog article, I could imagine that a theatre which ties the members of the audience to their seats would have great marketing potential, , difficult as it would be to reconcile with fire regulations.

      1. Thanks, Jen, I was hoping for a picture like that!! I also like the one of Cait kissing the chicken!! Would you send those to Costco for me? (When you don’t have anything else to do!) (No, maybe I sh2l7dn&#8o1u;t say that, the las time I did I never did get the pictures!!) Love you, see you in a little over a week!

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