My ongoing quest to discover American literature continues. So far I've discovered that Hemingway is probably not for me but Willa Cather more than likely is. The Great Gatsby is my first time reading Fitzgerald and all I knew before starting it was that he famously wrote about the glamour and decadence of the jazz age in 1920s America.
The Great Gatsby is the tale of Jay Gatsby, a self-made man who lives in comfort in a large mansion and holds the kind of parties that people come to from miles around. Despite having all the luxuries money can buy, he longs only for Daisy Buchanan, an ex of his who is now married. His neighbour, Nick Carraway, witnesses the tragic consequences of Jay and Daisy's affair.
A few days after reading this book, I'm still not sure whether I liked it or not. There's no question that Fitzgerald is a very talented writer and he makes remarkably perceptive insights about the characters and events in his book. I enjoyed his writing so much that I found myself deliberately slowing down my pace and rereading certain sections throughout. The Great Gatsby is short and very tightly constructed; no word is wasted. The central character of Jay Gatsby was intriguing and Fitzgerald managed to show his loneliness despite always surrounding himself with people.
I think what threw me off with this book was the author's ambivalence towards the decadence he was writing about. At some points Gatsby is portrayed as 'living the dream' and Fitzgerald certainly seems to approve but in other sections he makes it clear that the party-goers are drifting loose from their moral fibres and that the lifestyle doesn't lead to happiness. These parts read as a commentary on the corruption of the American dream and how it had been ruined by too much money, alcohol, greed and selfishness. I got the impression that Fitzgerald both loved and hated the themes and characters in his novel.
My other quibbles with the book are minor. Reading it in 2012, the wild parties don't seem as wild as they might have done to a 1925 audience. I thought the ending was a bit too dramatic. But The Great Gatsby is well worth reading if only for the beautiful prose;
"In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whispering and the champagne and the stars."
I got this book as part of a set with Tender is the Night and The Beautiful and the Damned. I will be definitely be reading both at some point in the future.
Verdict: Beautifully written classic novel about the Jazz Age.
First Published: 1925
Score: 3.5 out of 5