Book review: The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

Publisher: Tor Dot Com

Publication date: 01 June 2021

Genre: Retelling/fantasy

Page count: 272 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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 The Chosen and the Beautiful 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.

A retelling of The Great Gatsby from Jordan Baker’s perspective, The Chosen and the Beautiful dives deeper into these well known characters and develops their backstories with a fantastical, opulent backdrop of an alternate 1920s.

I love Vo’s writing — her Singing Hills Cycle is absolutely fabulous — and I was dying to know what her take on The Great Gatsby would be like. She does an amazing job of blending Fitzgerald’s writing style and the general vibes of the original story with her own writing, creating a lush and gorgeous alternate 1920s with a magical backdrop. I really enjoyed the fact that while the magic does play a role in character backstory and the world building, it’s not a magical version of The Great Gatsby. Her writing enhances the original tale beautifully, but doesn’t change it.

The Chosen and the Beautiful brings the background characters to life in a really fantastic way. Jordan, my favourite character in the original story, is reimagined as a Vietnamese adoptee and a queer woman. Vo really bring her to life in such a wonderful way through her complex sense of identity and belonging. She also does a great job building up Daisy’s character and making her into a complicated woman who is far from Gatsby’s image of perfection.

The only part of the book that I found a little bit clunky was forcing some of Fitzgerald’s imagery into this story. There’s a particular bit at the end that just felt odd and out of place! Of course, The Great Gatsby is famous for its imagery (which is why so many of us were tormented by it in high school English class) so you’d expect to see it in a reimagining of the story, but some bits didn’t work as well as others.

I’d recommend you read the original story before picking this up, as The Chosen and the Beautiful assumes you have knowledge of the plot of The Great Gatsby.

Want to try The Chosen and the Beautiful for yourself? You can find it at the following sites (affiliate links):

Blackwells | Book Depository

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