This book was read as part of the Eclectic Reader Challenge.
I really wanted to like this book.
From the moment I first bought it, I was staring longingly toward the spot it occupied on my bookshelf. Excited to discover this epic story that is so widely praised, and cherished.
Seriously, what just happened? Gatsby goers what am I missing?
This year I set myself the goal of trying to read more classics including books from the Rory Gilmore Challenge. And weirdly it has only just dawned on me – I am not going to like all of them; because no matter how much literary merit they have, people’s tastes vary. Unfortunately this was one I just did not get on with.
A pre warning, this is probably more of a rant than a review, and when I look back on it later I hope I will be able to look down my nose at it and say ‘gosh, I was so immature’. But here goes!
Jay Gatsby is a self-made man famed for his decadent, champagne-drenched parties. Despite being surrounded by Long Island’s bright and beautiful, he longs only for Daisy Buchanan. In shimmering prose, Fitzgerald shows Gatsby pursue his dream to its tragic conclusion.
The above description pretty much sums up the entire plot (it’s only a small book, 148 pages in my version). We are guided by Nick Carraway, our narrator (implementing the age old unreliable narrator debate) a man in his 30s recovering from his involvement in the war. He decides to try his hand at the bond business, moving to New York. As an outsider he paints a bright picture of the 1920s in America – the glamour, the parties, and the desecrated American Dream. He rents a house which resides next to the mansion of the one and only Jay Gatsby, a figure of mystery and intrigue who’s story is slowly revealed throughout the course of the novel. As past and present collide, tensions hit breaking point in a whirlwind of love, jealousy and betrayal.
Actually, that kind of makes it sound much more exciting than it is, but hey.
Fitzgerald’s writing is strange one. Not because he uses prose in a random way, but because I have never come across an author whose descriptions are so elegant and original, and yet at the same time so utterly dry and snooze inducing. I don’t quite understand it, I’m not sure how the two can be mutually exclusive but apparently they are. For instance I was spoilt for choice deciding which quotes to put on this post (scroll to bottom of page for proof) and yet I found myself constantly zoning out with disinterest when reading, which meant I had to continually reread paragraphs, sometimes even four or five times simply because my attention kept wandering off. I mean we all know classics can be difficult to read because of the language they use, but it wasn’t even that. It was just so dull and repetitive.
I also got completely confused in one particular section when I came across the word gonnegtion, so I looked it up and discovered that it WASN’T EVEN A REAL WORD. *Facepalm* I mean Seriously? I was tripped up yet again in a later chapter where the book suddenly entered a new paragraph in which our male narrator appeared to be describing himself walking along in a skirt, at which point I backtracked and discovered for some reason we now had the narrator describing another person’s (female) narrating. What the?
I think your thoughts on this novel will be directly correlated with his writing style. If you find it deep and poetic then you will probably love and cherish this book. But if you don’t? Snooooooooooze.
Ok, maybe that’s a bit harsh. I think I’m going to come across as if I have multiple personality disorder in this review. On the one hand I can understand why a lot of people may love this novel, especially because of its historical value, and by the end of the book I kind of wanted to give it three starts instead because the finale was so poetic….but I just couldn’t, it can’t make up for how bored I was throughout the majority of the novel. And yet, I can’t help thinking that some people will just automatically judge me for not liking it and dismiss me as being too young to appreciate the subtleties. And yes, I’m sure there probably were some references that I missed because I have never been taught about this book in class, and maybe I don’t have quite as much historical background on the topic as some, but I think I can give myself a little more credit than that. I still feel like I grasped Fitzgerald’s message, and I’m a pretty intuitive reader.
You know how sometimes you just connect with certain authors? The way they write, their passion, the way they argue a point of view? It can be impossible to pinpoint why – but it just happens. Well I didn’t feel that with Fitzgerald at all, and I think that was the problem.
I found the plot slow, I would come away after reading The Great Gatsby wondering what had actually happened, because nothing interesting or vaguely memorable was going on. This book is about nothing, and everything at the same time. It’s about spoilt, broken and confused people, their lives are a show, and nothing more. They wander though parties lost, even when they are surrounded by a sea of faces; let down by the ideal of the American dream. It’s about their hopeless spiraling existence that consumes them everyday.
Fitzgerald absolutely loves his symbolism, he has it in spades, so I can see why this book is used so much in English Lit classes. You would have a field day picking apart the text, from Fitzgerald’s choice in colours, to the weather, and the flashing green light across the bay.
I felt no connection to the characters either, they are given these detailed lavish descriptions and yet there was still no connection for me. I felt more like a casual observer glancing over my shoulder and seeing something vaguely interesting, pondering it for a moment, and then carrying on without another thought. Again I’m not really sure why, because Gatsby should be a compelling character, as should Daisy and the rest of them.
I think The Great Gatsby is a novel I could learn to appreciate. In fact, I plan to do a whole lot of research into it’s background for that very reason, but I don’t think I will ever love it. Maybe it would be better to look at it as a moment captured in history.
I would recommend this book to those who know a lot about the time period, and who have an appreciation for symbolism, and those who aren’t prone to falling asleep. 😉
I may not ever ‘like’ this novel but I would like to understand more about why others do. Have you ever read The Great Gatsby? What did you think of it? 🙂
Writing Style: 2/5
Character Development: 2/5
Would I recommend this book? No.
‘Two shining arrogant eyes had established dominance over his face and gave him the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward.’
* * *
‘Her husband, among various physical accomplishments, had been one of the most powerful ends that ever played football at New Haven – a national figure in a way, one of those men who reaches such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterwards savours of anti-climax.’
* * *
‘Well, she was less than an hour old and Tom was God knows where. I woke up out of the ether with an utterly abandoned feeling, and asked the nurse right away if it was a boy or a girl. She told me it was a girl, and so I turned my head away and wept. “All right” I said, “I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool – that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”
’You see I think everything’s terrible anyhow,’ she went on in a convinced way. ‘Everybody thinks so – the most advanced people. And I know. I’ve been everywhere and seen everything and done everything.’ Her eyes flashed around her in a defiant way, rather like Tom’s, and she laughed with thrilling scorn. ‘Sophisticated – God, I’m sophisticated!’
* * *
‘The bar is in full swing, and floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside, until the air is alive with chatter and laughter, and casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot, and enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other’s names.’
* * *
‘He talked a lot about the past, and I gathered that he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy. His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could once return to a certain starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was…’
P.S. I found this fun John Green video, and I think it sums the novel up perfectly – in fact, he sums up the novel better than the actual novel does! However be warned, there are quite a lot of spoilers, even though he states otherwise.
‘Upper crusty’ – Teehee
The Great Gatsby cover: http://www.goodreads.com/book/photo/9357704-the-great-gatsby