West of Sunset by Stewart O’Nan


I can’t remember where I first read it, but it has always fascinated me to learn that F Scott Fitzgerald was once a neighbour of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. It’s hard to put those three together. One the very person who coined the term “the Jazz Age” and the other the queen (and prince?) of television.

Then to learn that Fitzgerald worked in Hollywood, writing for the movies, and not very successfully at that, just blew me away! He even worked on the Gone with the Wind script, although he wasn’t credited for it. His star was not shining very brightly in those days.

It is a far less glamorous side of Fitzgerald than I ever thought existed.

So he hangs out with the likes of Ernest Hemingway and works on the same floor as Dorothy Parker but drives a beat-up old car and struggles to get anywhere in his Hollywood career. He struggles with his alcoholism, poor sales of his books and that heavy burden of debt hanging over him.

And because it is this very stage of Fitzgerald’s life that is being written about, it isn’t terribly exciting. It is, to be honest, at times a bit woebegone, a bit grim and pitiful, sometimes a bit flat. Fitzgerald is on his last legs, his desperation to hold on to his writing life, to any semblance of his former life.

West of Sunset is a biographical novel, but it is so very well-researched that I sometimes wondered, why not just write it as non-fiction?

However, this book did make me want to read all of Fitzgerald’s works. Seeing them from what I now know of the last years of his life.

I enjoyed reading about Fitzgerald’s life and struggles in Hollywood, and the gorgeous way O’Nan captured Hollywoods in the late 1930s. And I truly admire O’Nan for taking on this icon and making me see him in a different way. But I wished I had a greater emotional connection with the characters and to Fitzgerald’s story.

I received this book for review from Penguin’s First To Read programme.


O’Nan has written so many books! And more importantly for a book blogger, so many books I have not heard of!! I loved Last Night at the Lobster and have come across Songs for the Missing and Emily, Alone before, but to know that he has so many others waiting for me to discover makes me quite excited.

Story collections
In the Walled City (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1993)

Snow Angels
The Names of the Dead
The Speed Queen
A World Away
A Prayer for the Dying
Everyday People
Wish You Were Here
The Night Country
The Good Wife
Last Night at the Lobster 
Songs for the Missing
Emily, Alone
The Odds
West of Sunset

The Circus Fire (Doubleday, 2000)
Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season (with Stephen King) (Scribner, 2004)

As editor
On Writers and Writing by John Gardner (Addison-Wesley, 1994)
The Vietnam Reader: The Definitive Collection of Fiction and Nonfiction on the War (Anchor Books, 1998)

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