The okay Gatsby. The great writer.
Publisher: N/A (I read the version by Alma Books)
First Published: 1925
Date Reviewed: 17th April 2013
When Nick Carraway moves home, he finds his neighbour to be the host of many all-night parties. Having met his (Nick’s) cousin and her friend, he is encouraged to join the friend, Jordan, in attending one of them, and finally meets his allusive neighbour. What he doesn’t know is that his new acquaintances are familiar with each other.
The Great Gatsby is a novel of money and aiming high for innocent reasons. It’s relatively short with enough characters to get the messages across but not too many that you lose track of them, and at once both lives up to its reputation and falls short of it.
The story itself is basic – written before, written since, without much to recommend it. Gatsby himself isn’t as great as described, but then that could be the point, and therefore the statement at the beginning of this review refers primarily to the book as a whole. It is therefore in the writing that the success of the book can be found. Fitzgerald’s writing style is literary, political, satirical, and spot on for the time. Indeed so woven into the era his book is, it can seem dated today in ways that many classics aren’t – references to political events that have not stood the test of time (in other words are not particularly well known today) inevitably mean that whilst the sentiment may be obvious, in order to fully appreciate what Fitzgerald is saying some research may need to be conducted. For this reason a version of the novel with notes included is recommended.
Whilst Fitzgerald was reported to be nonchalant about the title of the book, the name undoubtedly fits well in both a potentially sarcastic manner and in the feelings of the crowds of people who supposedly know Gatsby himself. Gatsby is both a well-developed character in his own right, and a representative of all those who try their best to make something of themselves for whatever reason.
None of the characters are particularly likeable except, perhaps, Nick, who is simply a bystander who becomes exploited whilst trying to do the right thing. Here there are innocent aims, together with snobbery, material wealth above all else, and a distinct lack of care for anyone.
Fitzgerald portrays the romances in an intriguing way. He uses the word ‘love’ many times, but whilst reading it may be hard for the reader not to wonder where this referenced love is. Certainly there is love of money, as a particularly poignant line imparts, but of romantic love there is little. If Nick is to be believed, then the love was mostly in the past, and perhaps it’s the money itself that causes the physical separations, in terms of the space between two people on a sofa, for example. Yet there is an interesting contrast in the book between those who separated because of money, and those who have come together despite it, even if those who transcend money do not truly transcend it. And the subtext that money makes the world go round – money causes separation, which causes poor choices, which causes situational conflicts between characters, which causes a look to someone of less money – is ironic and exploited to great effect.
The story is average – it is the message that is to be taken away; the warnings for those who dream without considering the reality, the alerts to the fact that some people are not genuine or will move on if their pretentious needs are not met. These messages are presented in books often, so it is Fitzgerald’s writing that makes the book one of those you ought to read.
On many levels it’s the fact that it’s anything but great that makes The Great Gatsby worthy of your time.
April 29, 2013, 3:21 am
I think we must have read different books or something. :) I think TGG is a wonderful snapshot of the Roaring Twenties, with its Flappers, new money from dubuous dealings, bootleg liquour, and that whole frenetic and crazy Jazz Age zeitgeist. Sorry you didn’t like it very much.
April 29, 2013, 12:06 pm
I listened to the audiobook narrated by Tim Robbins and it was fantastic, really brought the book to life!
April 29, 2013, 5:40 pm
Great minds think alike Charlie ;) I *just* re-read this on Saturday during the read-a-thon. I’d forgotten how much I liked this novel.
April 29, 2013, 5:55 pm
My last foray with the novel was in high school, but I admit the movie trailer has me wanting to reread the book. My husband is a fan of Fitzgerald’s writing, but he has yet to read this novel by him. I think the hype and popularity of it have kept him away. I imagine he will finally get around to it now that the movie is out.
April 29, 2013, 6:10 pm
Sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy it much – classics are like that they go either way. I know it’s not a classic, but I was the same with The Book Thief. I thought it was written beautifully, but I didn’t much love it – or think it particularly amazing – everyone else I’ve spoken to who has read it loved it.
Interesting point on money and love!
In his way, Gatsby represents the whole 20s Jazz Age / Bright Young People – his death is the death of that era. He represents opulence, senselessness, mindless hedonism, and disregard for consequences. When he dies, and no one attends the funeral, I found that represented people distancing themselves from the drama of that era, of that hedonistic opulence; they all attended his parties, but not for him, for the extravagance, once he was gone, they never missed him – all the follies of the era are placed upon him and the rest of the characters escape unscathed. Gatsby did all this for the love of Daisy, selfish horrible Daisy, which I think demonstrated money doesn’t buy you love.
April 29, 2013, 6:11 pm
I COMPLETELY mis-read the beginning of your blog, so disregard my first paragraph :)
April 30, 2013, 12:16 am
I’ve read Gatsby many times, but not since college. I’ve considered reading it before the movie comes out in a few weeks, but I think the film is going to be it’s own special creation and I’m just going to enjoy it as a separate entity.
April 30, 2013, 11:10 am
Ah, I get excited when it comes to any conversation about The Great Gatsby. Just this past Friday night I commented on somebody’s tweet about their dislike for the book (said person had only read about 10pgs; I found this offensive, haha).
I happen to love Fitzgerald’s Gatsby!
I picked up the novel after trudging through Tolstoy’s 800+ pages of Anna Karenina; so I read it in a kind of contrast, I guess, in size and depiction.
I find it remarkable how Fitzgerald comments on just as much as Tolstoy does in so much less — he compresses an entire era, that of the Roaring Twenties, into such a tiny read. The novel is short, but Fitzgerald’s writing style is an extension of everything I hope to achieve in my own writerly pursuits. He waxes lyrical throughout and makes great use of jazz and metaphorical elements in his writing and in how the story is narrated (which is obviously appropriate, as Nick’s a writer).
I enjoyed your take on the book, though. One day when I’m grown have the time I want to re-read it and write my very own write-up about it too.
April 30, 2013, 11:33 am
I’m reading this right now! So I’m afraid I had to skim read your review a little so I didn’t get enough information to ruin the plot. I’m sad to hear you didn’t love this one. Will hopefully be able to full comparison on our thoughts next week.
April 30, 2013, 5:43 pm
I read this in high school and hated it and really need to reread it now as an adult. I love the era, I love Fitzgerald’s other books and stories. Lovely review.
April 30, 2013, 6:18 pm
I had to read this in high school and watch the movie (a super old one, I think) but all I can really remember is a scene in the movie where Daisy says, “Rich girls don’t marry poor boys”!
May 7, 2013, 12:47 pm
I read this one recently, i liked the book, but it didn’t stand out for me. I must have read a different version of the book.
June 13, 2013, 3:29 pm
Violet: You know, a part of me loves that, the vast difference of opinions out there. Even if on the surface it seems odd. It did like it though, it just wasn’t a favourite.
Laurie: I think it’s Tim Robbins I’ve read about before. I’ll have to find a sample of a reading he’s done, see what the fuss is about!
Jennifer: Perfect time to read it, whether for the first time or re-reading in readiness for the film.
Literary Feline: Yes, it’s hard sometimes to want to read a book that been hyped up, and of course then there’s the extreme reverse. If your husband likes the rest of his work though, no worries there, he’d likely enjoy it (or has enjoyed it, considering I’m replying rather late).
Alice: That’s okay, I guess my review is a bit ambigious. For me it’s a case of liking it, and definitely appreciating it a lot, but not loving it. The funeral is horrible, I mean you can’t be surprised by it because the party goers are easy to work out, but it’s still not nice to know no one so much as went in acknowledgement of all that entertainment.
Anbolyn: That doesn’t sound a bad idea. I may finally get to see it this weekend and will be trying my best to do similar.
Lucinda: I wouldn’t say 10 pages is enough to decide it’s not for you unless you had no knowledge of the setting or story whatsoever, no wondered you found it bad. After Tolstoy that must’ve been a major difference! I agree about the compression. I don’t think it would’ve hurt the book, neccersarily, to have a few more pages, but it does work well as it is.
Jessica: Read your review :)
Audra: I can imagine this could be a big hit or a big miss at school age. Definitely a good idea to re-read it now.
Rebecca: I think that quote says everything! Sounds as though you were okay with the book, which is nice to hear when it’s been introduced at school.
Melinda: I think that pretty much sums up my thoughts, too. Good, but not a stand out.