The true university these days is a collection of books.
-Thomas Carlyle

Sunday, 27 March 2011

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

What a lovely cover to this book! It is the Oxford's World Classics range. I read this famous book because a friend in work and I have issued each other a challenge, of 3 titles, to each other. We only need to have read one of the three by the end of the year, and this was one of the titles he chose for me, being one of his favourites. It was my first Fitzgerald novel. I have no idea why, but I have always thought this story was about a car, or a racing driver. Bizarre, but anyway...

Narrated by Nick Carraway just after WWI, in the early 1920's, we follow his observations of some of his wealthy neighbours living around Long Island, near New York city. Nick starts with his old college acquantance Tom Buchanan, an egotistical bully, now married to Nick's distant cousin Daisy, and their terminally bored and unimpressed golfing friend Jordan Baker. Nick is invited to their fashionable gatherings, and becomes privy to the knowledge of Tom's extra marital affair, along with how low Tom's behaviour can go. Nick then also becomes fascinated by the mysterious Gatsby who lives next door, throwing lavish parties for the rich and famous elite of Long Island and New York. Many stories and rumours abound about Jay Gatsby, his background and the legitimacy of his fortune. When Nick does meet him, he finds a complicated but generous man who has courted hopes for a lost love affair with a woman from 5 years before. As the story progresses, all of these characters lives become entwined, unforgettably for Nick.

The most compelling element in this book for me, was the passion that Nick Carraway has in telling this story. He is constantly attracted and repelled by the people he describes. The sense of place, the 'Jazz Age' in America between the wars, is so palpably created, even for a Brit like me, that you fall into this novel and into another age with ease. I was as fascinated and also repelled by the characters with Nick, while enjoying being enveloped by the era. Possibility, privilege and feigned boredom.

The descriptions throughout are wonderful, and one of the most enjoyable aspects of the novel. Rich descriptions of the great and the good...

' "Perhaps you know that lady," Gatsby indicated a gorgeous, scarcely human orchid of a woman who sat in state under a white plum tree.'

The writing was a total pleasure and I will read another of Fitzgerald's books on this alone. The last few paragraphs are some of the saddest and meaningful that I have come across.

I think that non-Americans will approach the book much differently, as I did, as a romp through a definable era, written with skillfully beautiful prose. I think a lot of Americans have the added personal exploration of American identity, the American dream, its definition and disputable loss. Wherever we come from, this is a quality piece of writing. Fully realised you can see why it is considered to be the writers masterpiece.

I totally recommend this book, generally because it is a skillful comment on an American post WWI state of mind, and for book groups because there is loads to talk about.

LitLovers do a guide, including discussion questions for The Great Gatsby. Just use the link.

For those of you interested in visiting the F Scott Fitzgerald Society website, use the link.

I now want to see the film with Robert Redford.


Annie said...

I had a massive Fitzgerald 'thing' thirsty or so years ago, prompted, I'm sure, by the Redford film and read my way through all the major novels. I remember loving them and being completely engrossed in the period. But, I'm sure you're right. We don't read then in the same way here in the UK as an American would. I don't think we have ever truly understood the concept of the American Dream and they cannot have the same impact on a British reader. Looking at my shelves I see none of those books remain. Did I borrow them from the library, or have they made their way to Oxfam? I don't know, but I think one at least is going to have to find its way back. You've made me feel like wallowing in that wonderful prose again.

Leah said...

Hi Annie,
I definitely want to read more of his work, just for the prose alone.

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