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The seductive sounds and smells of Russian billions, Great Gatsby style

I couldn’t resist the gorgeous cover of Vesna Goldsworthy’s Gorsky and the promise of a contemporary Great Gatsby-esque story, featuring Russian billionaires in London. Goldsworthy unashamedly follows the storyline of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s great classic (one of my absolute favourites so I was a bit wary…), but it works! It works because of Goldsworthy’s beautiful writing, her succinct take on extreme wealth and our fascination with Russian oligarchs. If this book doesn’t turn into one of this summer’s big beach reads I’ll eat my hat…

Our narrator is Nikola Kimović or Nick, a Serbian exile, working in a quirky bookshop at the heart of London’s Chelsea. Russian billionaire Roman Gorsky commissions Nick to build ‘the best private library in Europe’ for his palatial new home, just a few streets away. It’s all about creating the illusion of old money, knowledge and power, of course, and Nick, intrigued and in need of cash, agrees.

Another of Nick’s regular clients is stunningly beautiful Natalia, a Russian married to wealthy English banker Tom Summerscale and an avid consumer of art books. Natalia and Gorsky know each other from rougher times back in Volgograd when Gorsky was a mere mortal and Natalia only nineteen.

Gorsky has been unhappily in love ever since, while Natalia has married and had a child, Daisy (yes, there are plenty of nods to The Great Gatsby here.) We’re set for a devastating love triangle. If you’ve read Fitzgerald’s story you’ll have an idea of what happens next, if you haven’t, I don’t want to spoil if for you other than to say that it’s worth the ride.

Thus Nick becomes the keyhole through which we peek in on the existence of the super rich. And exhilarating it is! Goldsworthy excels with her sensory writing, it’s almost as if it’s us walking on the deep white silk carpet, past the eccentric pieces of modern art, under the Chihuly chandeliers surrounded by the smells of mimosas and expensive leather.

Gorky himself is a mysterious, ‘chiselled’ creature whose wealth can be seen as well as heard in an understated sort of way.

His money did not shout. It whispered in the rustle of whitest Egyptian cotton, finest cashmere and softest calfskin, and in the ticking of the most precise platinum watch mechanism ever made.

Goldsworthy is spot on in her descriptions of wealth, the Russian as well as the English kind.

Natalia’s wealth wasn’t in itself attractive. There seemed to be just too much of it; it was the kind of money that not only begets money but demands its own space, its own share of your life. It was the kind of money that takes over and becomes a full-time occupation.

No, Nick prefers the kind of wealth his English bookshop owner boss Christopher Fynch is in possession of.

…the sort of money that cascaded down the generations and seeped through ramshackle businesses and holes in month-eaten dinner jackets until everyone forgot where it came; the sort of money that wasn’t even affluence so much as a sense of entitlement.

Goldsworthy has the advantage of an outsider’s view (she moved from Belgrade to London at the age of 25) of both the Russians and the English and, even, London itself, a city she astutely describes as having ‘unmoored itself from its nation’.

Gorsky is a delicious read, the kind you gulp down in a couple of days. Although Goldsworthy comments on wealth and, in particular, the way in which it has transformed London, make no mistake, this is pure entertainment.

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Gorsky by Vesna Goldsworthy is published by Chatto & Windus, 274 pages.