Book Review #27: The Great Gatsby
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Genre: Classic, Fiction
Days to Read: 8 days
Synopsis: Self-made, self-invented millionaire Jay Gatsby embodies some of Fitzgerald’s—and his country’s—most abiding obsessions: money, ambition, greed, and the promise of new beginnings. “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning—” Gatsby’s rise to glory and eventual fall from grace becomes a kind of cautionary tale about the American Dream.
It’s also a love story, of sorts, the narrative of Gatsby’s quixotic passion for Daisy Buchanan. The pair meet five years before the novel begins, when Daisy is a legendary young Louisville beauty and Gatsby an impoverished officer. They fall in love, but while Gatsby serves overseas, Daisy marries the brutal, bullying, but extremely rich Tom Buchanan. After the war, Gatsby devotes himself blindly to the pursuit of wealth by whatever means—and to the pursuit of Daisy, which amounts to the same thing. “Her voice is full of money,” Gatsby says admiringly, in one of the novel’s more famous descriptions. His millions made, Gatsby buys a mansion across Long Island Sound from Daisy’s patrician East Egg address, throws lavish parties, and waits for her to appear. When she does, events unfold with all the tragic inevitability of a Greek drama, with detached, cynical neighbor Nick Carraway acting as chorus throughout. Spare, elegantly plotted, and written in crystalline prose, The Great Gatsby is as perfectly satisfying as the best kind of poem. (Goodreads)
My Thoughts: A couple of years ago, I had picked this book up from an antique store in Nanton, AB and that night I tried settling into it. Tried, being the operative word. Because try as I might, I just could not get past chapter three. But when my book club and I formed last month, we all decided this should be our first book to read so we could go see the movie together. This time I was determined to finish it.
I’m glad we chose this book to read because I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was for me to get into it this time around. I had been expecting another challenge, but the pages just flew by and I became immersed in the Jazz Era.
The plot itself appears to be simple, but with a mature mind and reflection, I realized that this book is so much more. It’s a story about the American Dream—and the realities of such a life. It’s about humanity, money, love and power. Fitzgerald plays with criticism, idolization and irony. He makes his characters hard to love and easy to judge. Because, really, it’s the characters that drive the story, make the story worth reading. Nick, our narrator, is logical but easily persuaded. His first apprehension of Gatsby soon turns adour, despite some of Gatsby’s actions. For a while he didn’t know what to make of his neighbour, switching from apprehension to annoyance to worshipping. This tired me to no end because his friends’ stupidity were staring him straight in the face and he just took it most of the time, turning a blind eye. Also, he had a very creepy way of going about things—even for the most intimate moments, he was there as our guide, telling us what was going on. Um, if you see two people touching each other, searching for something they’ve been missing in each other’s eyes, lost in time, GET OUT. You’re not wanted. I get he was the narrator, but a lot of the times I kept asking him, why? Why put yourself through this awkwardness? He was merely there to provide the reader a look into what we all want: a lavish life filled with parties, “friends”, music, an abundance of items and good times. He went from a poor boy to a boy living the dream.
Gatsby, on the other hand, represented what society holds above all else: success and beauty. He wasn’t complete without beautiful Daisy and her voice that “sounds of money.” His life didn’t follow the path he had wanted it to go, and so he went back a few paces to the time when it all made sense and tried to recreate a new future, without realizing that time changes everything. He was still stuck in the past and couldn’t see the present and future for what it was. Many of us can admit to this. We always think “if we could just go back and re-do (insert life moment), life would be so much better.” But we can’t change the past, anymore than we influence fate. Oh Gatsby, old sport, how dim you were to hold onto a memory, a past that could never be lived again. When Nick first meets Gatsby and learns of his reasons for living across the pond from Daisy and throwing lavish parties, I couldn’t help but become hopeful that this wasn’t going to be unrequited love (the world has enough of that already). But as the days started passing, I started feeling more and more sorry for Gatsby, for clinging onto a ghost. The woman he said he loved was no more than a frivolous, indecisive girl. A girl that you wanted to like from the start, but quickly realized the error in that sentiment.
Daisy was just that—a flower. Pretty to look at but nothing substantial. She flitted about from scene to scene, creating drama and continuously seeking a good time. She spoke without thinking and flew through life causing destruction but not taking the time to clean up her mess. Her indecisive ways hurt more than one person in this book and I was glad to be done the book if only to be rid of her. She was exhausting. I had wanted to like her at the start, but it was soon clear to me that both her and her husband, Tom, would be an eyesore on the great canvas of Gatsby. They cared tuppance for others.
The only character I really cared for was Jordan, Nick’s “girlfriend.” She was stunning. Both as an independent female, who became successful on her own terms, and who didn’t need a man to sustain her—so refreshing. Bravo for Fitzgerald highlighting such a strong woman in a world of men.
On the whole, the characters are shallow, empty shells leaving a lot to be desired. And the story is simple, if not flourished with Fitzgerald’s sweeping language. But the underlying currents hit the reader in such a force that it’s impossible to miss the point—money can’t buy happiness. That seeking a lavish life of riches will only leave you disappointed. That one’s wealth or beauty does not determine their character and morality. In that sense, it was a wonderful read.
My Rating: 9/10
“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
“It occurred to me that there was no difference between men, in intelligence or race, so profound as the difference between the sick and the well.”
“I love New York on summer afternoons when everyone’s away. There’s something very sensuous about it—overripe, as if all sorts of funny fruits were going to fall into your hands.”
“And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”
“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”
“Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth, but there was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget: a singing compulsion, a whispered “Listen,” a promise that she had done gay, exciting things just a while since and that there were gay, exciting things hovering in the next hour.”
“I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him.”
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”