Thursday, October 9, 2014

Review of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1926, Penguin Classics)

It’s 1922 and Nick Carraway has moved east to New York, taking up residence in a small house in the community of West Egg on Long Island.  His next door neighbour is the enigmatic, Jay Gatsby, a man whose past is open to speculation, who lives in mansion that seems to be host to an endless stream of parties all summer long, attended by celebrities and anyone who wants to gatecrash.  Across the bay in East Egg lives Tom and Daisy Buchanan, a wealthy young couple who have also moved east.  Carraway is a cousin of Daisy, and Gatsby is an old flame.  As the summer progresses, the paths of all four intersect and the tension rises as Gatsby and Tom vie for Daisy’s affections.

The Great Gatsby is considered one of the classic novels of American Literature -- a tragic tale of lost love, hedonism, jealousy, and the quest to live the American dream.  For me, it’s one of those novels that seems more satisfying when one has completed reading it, than when working one’s way through the story.  I think this is most due to the fact that it’s a slower burner of a tale, with not much happening in the first two thirds as Fitzgerald manoeuvres elements of the story into place for the final denouement.  It is only at this point that tale gains resonance as the enigmatic Gatsby and his back story are exposed to view and starts to unwind.  And while Fitzgerald’s prose is engaging, with many quotable sentences, the characters are nonetheless shallow and vapid and there is little to like about any of them, though this undoubtedly the point.  Overall, a story that some may love for its social commentary on a certain strata of American society and the dream of many to join that class, but which left me cold for the most part.


Yvette said...

We must agree to disagree, Rob, since THE GREAT GATSBY is one of my favorite books of all time.

Yes, the people and society created by Fritzgerald mostly leave us cold, but for me this is the ultimate 'be careful what you wish for' story. I can't ever help, in the end, feeling for 'Gatsby' whose obsession with a young woman hardly worth his time and devotion, ultimately destroys him. For me, Daisy Buchanan is one of the ultimate female villains: careless and cruel and unworthy of Gatsby.

I've read THE GREAT GATSBY several times and I always get something out of it.

Yvette said...

Hmmm, I seem to have used the word 'ultimate' three times too many. Sorry about that. Got carried away. :)

neer said...

I am with Yvette. This is to me a great book indeed. and I love Dr. Eckleberg.:)

Rob Kitchin said...

I suspect if I read it again I might get more out of it, but it didn't resonate with me particularly on this reading.

seana graham said...

Rob, I have to say that this is one of those books that I've never been able to really get into either. Not in high school, which is maybe understandable, but also not when my reading group chose it a few years back either. We are very much in the minority on this one, I fear. But I thought I'd write and say you're not alone.