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
I think I'm going to pretend I'm from the 1920s when I read this one (later this year.) I want it to feel how it would have felt, back then.ReplyDelete
I hope you enjoy it, it would have been fun to be around in the 1920s :)Delete
I remember that the film of the novel had an impact on me many years ago, but the book remained unread on my shelf. Your review makes me want to read it for the language aspect - thank you for the review and the quote.ReplyDelete
The language is beautiful and it's definitely worth picking up for that alone. I hope you enjoy it Linda.Delete
I didn't enjoy this as much as I thought I would. I read while traveling last year and never even finished it. His writing is fabulous, though, isn't it? I have Tender is the Night on my TBR shelf and am looking forward to getting to it soon. If you ever get to reading Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, he writes about his friendship with Fitzgerald in Paris in the 20s.ReplyDelete
The writing is truly gorgeous, I agree. I look forward to your thoughts on Tender is the Night, I'm hoping to read The Beautiful and the Damned later in the year. A Moveable Feast sounds interesting, if I give Hemingway another go I'll try that one.Delete
Fitzgerald has to be one of my top 5 favorite writers. Don't be fooled by his beautiful people and lavish parties. He was a fierce adversary of the concept of "American Dream" and he was determined to show his readers that having all the money in the world and beautiful friends was just a gateway to another ball game of problems.ReplyDelete
His writing is sophisticated and yet it's burning with a savage passion. He makes me jealous of his skills and yet his books are a love letter to literature and writing. B & D and Tender was both awesome too.
Man, I'm pumped up.
I can see him thinking that, and it's certainly true that money didn't make any of the characters in Gatsby happy.Delete
Your comment makes me want to go out and read one of his other books straight away!
I don't think Hemingway is for me either, although I should probably give him another shot before I completely write him off. I was surprised at how lovely the writing in Gatsby was when I listened to it last autumn...I hadn't picked up on that when I was in high school! It makes me interested in his other works, thought I don't have any immediate plans to read them.ReplyDelete
To be fair, I've only read one Hemingway so I shouldn't write him off completely either. I think I will read The Beautiful and The Damned later in the year, the plot actually appeals to me more than Gatsby but I wanted to start with his 'best' work.Delete
Glad to hear that I'm not the only one ambivalent at best about this book. It's been a while since I've read it (high school) but as much as I didn't like most of the characters, I loved its symbolic prose. It's difficult to say whether or not you "like" a book when you feel that divided about it.ReplyDelete
I think we weren't supposed to like a lot of the characters? My ambivalence comes from the fact that I found it disconcerting to not be able to ascertain what Fitzgerald meant all the time. It was like not being able to solve a puzzle! Agree that the prose was beautiful.Delete
This is one of those books whose symbolism and portrait of the time period get better each time I read it. I first tackled it in a high school English class, and I just loved it. I've read it four or five more times since then, and I'm notoriously bad at getting round to re-reading. I'm glad it left you with something to chew on even if you're not sure how you feel about it just yet!ReplyDelete
Yes, I can see that. I don't think I 'got' everything out of the book and I'm still puzzling over the meaning a bit now. I think it's one I will revisit at some point in the future.Delete
Lovely article however one is inclined to disagree with your comments regarding the ending. Drama IS the essence of American life, to dispel the hyperbolic descriptions would be to do injustice to the realities of the post-industrial world. Maybe it is your turn to spread your arms out further and embrace the conventions of American sentimentalism as much as one might accept the ashen urban landscapes as reality. In equal measure Tom Buchanan is as real a character as Myrtle Wilson.ReplyDelete
Yours sincerely, Jonathan Baker
I'll have to trust you when you say drama is the essence of American life, I'm from the UK and the stereotype is that we are a bit more closed. Maybe that's why the end seemed too dramatic to me?
Congrats on reading your first Fitzgerald! He is one of my favorite authors and I am actually reading through his works this year. I will be discussing This Side of Paradise at the end of this month. Come by and visit if you get the Fitzgerald bug. :)ReplyDelete
Thank you :)Delete
I'll definitely stop by your This Side of Paradise post at the end of the month.
I have a very soft heart for ardent love, (which in reality I think does not exist anymore) and sadly, Gatsby to me is the epitome of that.ReplyDelete
Gatsby was only loving an illusion though, wasn't he? Daisy wasn't everything he imagined her to be because he had spent so long idealising her as the perfect love and the perfect woman. I think their relationship always would have failed.Delete
I had to read this at school and hated it. Probably because I was at school at the time and it is one author I chose to avoid ever since.ReplyDelete
However I do recognise that it is actually a very good book of the 20th century.
I do think school exposes us to certain books a bit early on - I wouldn't have liked this book as a teenager because I didn't have enough life experience to understand it.Delete
Like other commenters, I read The Great Gatsby in school. I remember liking it, but not much more than that. I also enjoyed the movie, though I remember thinking at the time that it didn't quite capture the book.ReplyDelete
I'm not much of a Hemingway fan myself. I hated The Old Man and the Sea, and sort of slogged my way through A Farewell to Arms.
I will be interested to see what you think of the next Fitzgerald that you read.
Gorgeous cover. I read it when I was a lot younger too. What put me off it was having to try and explain words and phrases from it to not very keen German students of English when I worked in Germany, some of it was difficult to convey and they were confused and I was embarrassed! So my fondness for the book reduced a bit! Glad you liked it though.ReplyDelete
I got the impression that Fitzgerald both loved and hated the themes and characters in his novel.ReplyDelete
That's an interesting observation. His life had a lot of wildness and decadence to it too; as he was living it he probably enjoyed it, but then it ruined him and his family in a lot of ways. I read a short story of his, Babylon Revisited, that also touches on this: a man trying to put his life back together after squandering everything.
I enjoyed your review.
Thanks for the review! I started reading this a few months back, but gave up because I just couldn't get interested. Must give it another try sometime this year, I think.ReplyDelete
Ive always thought that one should read this in tandem with The Rich Boy.ReplyDelete