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Books I Should Have Read: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

December 30, 2011

Jay Gatsby is the man who has everything. But one thing will always be out of his reach … Everybody who is anybody is seen at his glittering parties. Day and night his Long Island mansion buzzes with bright young things drinking, dancing and debating his mysterious character. For Gatsby – young, handsome, fabulously rich – always seems alone in the crowd, watching and waiting, though no one knows what for. Beneath the shimmering surface of his life he is hiding a secret: a silent longing that can never be fulfilled. And soon this destructive obsession will force his world to unravel.

The Great Gatsby is one of those books I feel like I should have read a long time ago, but for some reason it seems to have passed me by. Considering I have a degree in English Literature you would think I might have read this novel by now! One of my colleagues often professed that this was her favourite novel of all time and that she now reads it every year, so this Christmas she kindly gave me my very own copy. This time I had no excuses, and I’m very glad for that. I have no idea why it’s taken me so long to read it, but in one way I’m almost glad – I think I’m now at that age where I will certainly appreciate it more than I would have in my school days. It hasn’t been tainted by endlessly analysing every word and depicting each and every theme. Instead, I got the chance to just simply enjoy it, and that’s exactly what I did.

This isn’t going to be a long review, as I’m sure most of you have read it already, and if not, you’re probably familiar with the story at least. It’s been called the greatest American novel of all time, and I’m not sure if it’s the best – I haven’t read enough American literature to come up with a definitive answer here – but it is certainly up there. Fitzgerald’s descriptions of the 1920s ‘Jazz Age’ where the economy soared after the First World War, are incredible and really make you feel as though you are living it alongside his characters. The future is theirs for the taking – why dwell on the past? The trouble with this era is that they all want a little too much far too often, and their American dream soon comes crashing down around them, leaving them with nothing. It was a time when millionaires were made – even out of bootleggers, and it was this clash between ‘old money’ and ‘new money’ that really makes everything a little more tense.

The characters are anything but two-dimensional here, and each one has a clearly defined personality that leaps off the pages. From Jay Gatsby, the ‘new money’ who has earned his wealth through bootlegging – he uses his wealth, his new mansion and his constant parties to win back his one true love – Daisy Buchanan. Daisy on the other hand, although outrageously beautiful and charming, is also rather fickle and childish, and her decisions throughout the novel impact everyone around her. The narrator Nick Carraway, is undoubtedly my favourite character of all – he may be quiet, reflective and rather understated, but he has morals and isn’t taken in by the riches and frivolity that others flaunt in front of him. He is a good man, and perhaps the only character in the book who stays true to who he is.

The thing that struck a chord with me most about the novel, is the utter loneliness and emptiness that Jay Gatsby exudes. He is incredibly wealthy; he throws wild parties every night where he meets an endless array of new people who consider themselves lucky just to be in his company. He has everything he ever dreamed of having – apart from Daisy Buchanan. The sadness of the situation and his plight to win her back is heartbreaking to watch, and it’s down to Fitzgerald’s astonishing talent as a writer that the awful truth really comes through. It’s clear that Fitzgerald had very conflicting emotions towards the Jazz Age throughout which he himself lived, and I’m sure there are many echoes of his own personality that shine through the character of Jay Gatsby. Both men used wealth and prosperity to win the love of a woman, whilst the women drove them towards the kind of life they despised most.

I adored this novel, and I do feel slightly saddened that it has taken me so long to get to it. But like I said earlier, I also think I’m at that age now where I feel like I have understood it more than I would have years ago. In some aspects, I was surprised by how difficult it was to read at times, the prose can be slightly complicated and the sentences long, and I found myself having to re-read several bits just so it would sink in. But I am in awe of Fitzgerald as a writer, and I can’t wait to read more of his work. I definitely won’t be leaving it as long this time…


6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 31, 2011 04:29

    Great Gatsby was required reading for my entire high school. I remember really liking it, but knowing I was too young to “get it”. I should really give it a reread. Wonder if my sister still has her copy from high school, that I borrowed and underlined a ton of stuff in? She was really mad I wrote in her book. . .

  2. April 19, 2012 07:08

    I don’t know what it is, but even though I do enjoy this novel I’ve never quite been willing to put it up in my top novels category. I’ve read it three times now, all for school, and I can recognize the quality I’ve never really emotionally resonated with it, or with any of the characters. Most of what Fitzgerald does here I’ve seen other authors do better, so maybe that’s part of it too.

    • April 19, 2012 11:22

      I think I know what you mean… I don’t think I felt much of an emotional connection to the characters either. Looking back on it, I don’t think I loved it as much as I expected to, it’s still a good novel, but it doesn’t rank as one of my all time favourites either!


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