Sunday, June 09, 2013

The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald

“There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams -- not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.”

Nick Caraway is living on his own, trying to make his way in the world when he meets his next door neighbor, the mysterious Jay Gatsby, a millionaire with a secret. Gatsby invites Caraway into his world, filled with the rich and careless, consisting of colossal parties and endless lounging. Within this world Nick finds his cousin, Daisy Buchanan and her poor excuse of a husband, Tom. Daisy and Jay seem to share some unspoken connection that interferes with her marriage and put the group dynamic in jeopardy.

I was disappointed with this book. I had built it up in my mind as a literary masterpiece and had high expectations. Prior to this I had never read Fitzgerald but he was often spoken of alongside Hemingway and appeared to highly regarded. Previous to this I had only read one other book written in the 1920s, P.G. Wodehouse’s ”The Inimitable Jeeves” and loved it! It was light, witty, humourous and most of all, felt modern. In contrast,”The Great Gatsby” was plodding and bland and boring. It defied expectations by completely letting me down, despite some great character description.

None of these characters were likeable and perhaps Fitzgerald did this on purpose but it didn’t endear me to the book.

My main problem with the book was that none of the characters were likeable, leading to my disinterest in their welfare. I wasn’t concerned about their survival or development and I’m not sure if that wasn’t the point. Gatsby is mysterious for the majority of the story, leaving us with Nick, an ethereal narrator; Daisy, a ditzy flake; Tom, a cheating moron; and Jordan, a navel-gazing maniac. Also problematically, I didn’t see what was so special about Daisy in the present. She seemed shallow, self-absorbed and completely clueless. This made it hard to believe that Gatsby was blind to this and only saw the version of Daisy that he wanted to but I suppose love blinds people to others’ faults. Personally I would have preferred a character to latch onto and root for but even the narrator, Nick Carraway was rather a wet rag and boring when compared to Gatsby. This left no one for myself, the reader, to identify with, making the book feel cold and distant. I understand the motif of the book well enough but I didn’t enjoy how I got there. The story may be full of symbolism but it’s an unhappy journey to the end, leaving the reader with nothing but a depressing message.

After this I’m not sure I would read another Fitzgerald book. At the least, if I had to choose between him and Wodehouse, I would choose Wodehouse every time. I don’t mind if there’s a message in a story but it should at least be enjoyable to get there. And I don’t mean that every story should end happily. I’m perfectly fine with tragedy but I want a meaty read with a variety of interesting characters and a good plot. Gatsby never held my attention for very long and didn’t once take hold of my imagination, making it more a chore than a joy to read. If anything I would steer people towards Wodehouse if they’re looking for a read from this time period and probably wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone.

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