Thursday, 9 February 2012

'The Great Gatsby' by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

Synopsis: The Great Gatsby is set in the summer of 1922. The narrator of the book is a man called Nick Carraway, who has recently left his home in the Midwest for a job in New York City. Nick rents a small house on Long Island, which is just across the bay from his cousin Daisy and her wealthy husband Tom Buchanan. Nick is soon pulled into their glittering world and is even introduced to Tom's mistress Myrtle. Nick is both shocked and fascinated by the Buchanan's lifestyle. But what fascinates Nick even more is his wealthy and mysterious next-door neighbour Mr Jay Gatsby. The man throws lavish and boisterous parties at his mansion night after night and everyone in New York and Long Island seems to know who he is. Yet, no-one seems to know anything about Gatsby himself. However Nick is then informed that Gatsby and his cousin Daisy were once romantically involved - but Daisy chose to marry Tom when Gatsby went to Europe to fight in WWI. Gatsby asks Nick to arrange a meeting between himself and Daisy. Nick agrees but this meeting has deeply tragic consequences.

I really wasn't sure if I was going to like The Great Gatsby when I first started reading it but I was very pleasantly surprised. One thing that surprised me about it was its length. Classic novels always seem to be huge - well the ones I read always seem to be huge anyway. But if The Great Gatsby was only a little bit shorter it would have to be classed as a novella. It's short and accessible and would for a really good introduction to classic novels. Also, Fitzgerald's prose is beautiful and is so descriptive and evocative. I absolutely loved his writing style and there are such gorgeous quotes from it:

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.

‘Whenever you feel like criticising any one,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’”

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic 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 then one fine morning-
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” 

Usually I also enjoy books that have a lot of likeable and endearing characters as well but The Great Gatsby isn't one of those books. There are very few likeable characters in it. Most of the characters are lacking in morals and some  of them you even hate. But then most of these characters aren't meant to be likeable or endearing. It would go against the whole point of the story. Fitzgerald is mourning the decline of the American Dream in The Great Gatsby and it's a scathing social commentary of its time. Fitzgerald is bashing the moral emptiness and decay of upper-class, east coast, 1920s' America - so almost all of the characters are superficial, shallow, selfish and completely lacking in self-awareness (ooh, look how many "S" words I managed to get in there!)

No character embodies these qualities more in the book than Daisy Buchanan, the love of Gatsby's life. She's so incredibly shallow that she actually cries tears of happiness when she sees Gatsby's elegantly tailored shirts because she's never in her life seen clothes so beautiful. She's just a total bitch to be honest. She and her philandering, racist scumbag of a husband deserve each other in my eyes. There are only two likeable and sympathetic characters in this story - Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway. The Great Gatsby is one of those books in which a "normal" narrator tells the story of a more mysterious and eccentric character. Other examples of books that do this are Breakfast at Tiffany's, Brideshead Revisited and the Sherlock Holmes stories. When Gatsby is first introduced he comes across as polite, charming, intriguing, mysterious and charismatic. But as the story goes on you begin to see that Gatsby is actually an extremely lonely and deeply flawed character. His naive, misplaced devotion in a girl who is completely unworthy of him make him a very tragic and sympathetic character and I really felt sorry for the poor guy. Nick Carraway is a very sympathetic character in this book too. He values honesty and compassion and has a good sense of morals. He's also regarded as being one of the most reliable narrators in literature because there's never the sense that he's hiding anything and because he actually says that he tries very hard not to judge people.

Some readers won't be able to get past the mostly unlikeable characters of The Great Gatsby and I can see why it wouldn't be to everyone's taste. Yet despite the rather sad and bleak ending, I really loved this book. It's beautifully-written and is a brilliant morality tale. I'm sure I'll read it again some day - although not for a long while. Having read two books with sad endings in a row I definitely fancy reading some more cheerful books! I'm looking forward to the upcoming Leonardo DiCaprio/Baz Luhrmann film adaptation. I'm not too thrilled about Tobey Maguire playing Nick but apart from that the cast looks pretty solid.

Rating: 5/5


Anonymous said...

I really wasn't at all impressed with this book I'm afraid. Nothing happens! It's boring! I hate everyone apart from Gatsby! I hate Fitzgerald's writing style! It makes me very sad that an awesome character like Gatsby is trapped in this crappy nothing of a book. I actually wish a more talented writer would rescue him by writing a sequel. Preferably a sequel in which all the other characters died a painful death. In fact...maybe all the other characters could fall into the sea and be eaten by Moby Dick Then Gatsby and Ahab (another promising character imprisoned in a crap novel)could become friends and sail around the world and have adventures!

Indigo Montoya said...

I can see that this book isn't to everyone's taste and I will accept that not much happens in the book, I will give you that. And we both agree that Gatsby is awesome. But I can't agree with you about Fitzgerald's prose. It is drop dead gorgeous! And most of the characters in this book aren't supposed to be likeable or endearing so if you hate them then it just shows that Fitzgerald is only guilty of doing his job properly. I'll take this book over One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest anyday. At least Fitzgerald isn't guilty of misogyny. Men and women alike are detestable in this book! ; )

Anonymous said...

What?? Are you insane??? One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a FANTASTIC book! I'll take misogyny with a plot over boring drivel any day. And while I can appreciate that the characters are supposed to be unlikeable, a truly great author can make you care about even the most hateful of characters. Emily Bronte for example- Heathcliffe, Cathy, Linton, et al- all appalling, yet you still ENJOY reading about them because they are at least INTERESTING. They are ENGAGING. They are MEMORABLE. Aside from Gatsby not a single character in this book is any of those things. And poor old Gatsby just doesn't get enough page time to keep my interest. No I'm sorry, Fitzgerald's prose is too poetic and airy fairy for my taste. That is a personal preference issue though, I'm not a poetry lover on the whole and I could happily overlook this if SOMETHING HAPPENED. But it doesn't! Sorry for the rant, but I feel very strongly about this!

Indigo Montoya said...

I'll excuse your rant cos I aint done yet! Gonna have to disagree with you. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest IS well-written but the more I think about that book the more I dislike it. It's misogynistic and anti-feminist even for the 1960s and it's pretty nasty, offensive stuff. I wouldn't describe myself as a feminist at all but the women are either whores or cold, domineering and bitchy in that book. If I'm insane for getting upset when some author treats female characters in a degrading manner then so be it! Say what you like about The Great Gatsby as a novel but at least it's not immoral.
I'll take your point about WH. And Fitzgerald's characters aren't the type to make you think about them for days afterwards but they ARE believable because you know that people like them genuinely exist. So actually in a sense I DO find them interesting. There really are spoilt, shallow, morally vacuous, rich, superficial types out there. You only have to watch Paris Hilton on TV to know that's true. Sadly these people are never going to go away.

Anonymous said...

Of course there are shallow, vacuous, superficial people in the world but you know what? I'd actually rather watch the shenanigans of Paris Hilton and co in one of those dreadful reality shows than read this book! At least that would be vaguely entertaining (albeit in a brainless and shameful way) whereas Fitzgerald's characters are dull, dull, dull. I LIKE a bit of escapism in a book and to me the primary objective of any novel is to entertain me and capture my imagination. (If I WANTED to hear people drone on about boring, inane trivialities I would simply ask my co-workers what they did at the weekend. I expect much more from a novel. )The Great Gatsby fails to deliver on this most basic objective. It therefore fails as a novel. It has no point. Bravo it offends no one, but so what? Now I'm not calling you insane for getting annoyed about Kesey's attitude towards women, it annoys me too! What you're insane about is thinking that Gatsby is a better book than Cuckoo's Nest. Yes, Cuckoo's Nest is offensive, but it has a life to it that Gatsby utterly lacks.
For the record I have no problem whatsoever with characters being unlikeable and I positively applaud any author who can make their characters realistic. What I cannot forgive are characters that bore me to the point where I couldn't care less what happens next.

Anonymous said...

I'd just like to say that I LOVE debating on books! :D

Indigo Montoya said...

I must enjoy debating too because I wouldn't even call TGG an absolute favourite of mine. I don't think it would even make my top 20. I just felt sorry for it and wanted to put in a good way for it.
Anyway, because I think this debate could potentially roll on for WEEKS I will say that you have the right to think that The Great Gatsby is a book with a lack of plot and action, a lack of interesting characters and a writing style that you didn't care for. However, I also have the right to think that The Great Gatsby is a beautifully written book that has a great lead character, a moving ending and insightful, relevant themes.

Anonymous said...

I quite agree :) Funnily enough I really loved The Remains of the Day and that sort of reminded me of The Great Gatsby. What with the not much happening, lost love, regret, etc etc. I suppose it's all a matter of personal preference.