Tuesday 8 October 2013

The Great Gatsby

I have not read much 'classic' American literature and to be honest had a bit of a negative view of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I thought that The Great Gatsby was some kind of celebration of the 1920s extravagant, self-indulgent lifestyle of the super-wealthy, and it really didn't interest me. When the film came out it certainly was presented that way by the previews. Then I read a review and was surprised to find that the book was described as a critique of this affluent society, so I downloaded it from the audiobook library and found it an interesting and enjoyable listen, quite a change from my usual reading choices. 

Being written third person seemed to exaggerate for me the sense that you were an outsider looking in on the events in question. The narrator, a young man who finds himself living next door to Gatsby is never quite one of the 'ingroup' but seems somewhat set apart and becomes a confidant of the enigmatic Gatsby. I found it interesting that although America often likes to think of itself as 'classless', a meritocracy, unlike Britain who is so bound up with class consciousness and boundaries, you find that when it comes to the crunch the Tom Buchanan's of this story don't like the upstart nobody who tried for a while to pretend to be one of them. The story is all about the superficiality, both of their lives and of their relationships. I find on the wiki page that the characters are all based on real people but I am not sure how that affects the way you react to the story. I did not like Daisy (curiously coincidental that I read two books in a week where the main character had the same name) at all, she is shallow and selfish and unable to take responsibility, but maybe I am being harsh and she is just a product of her era and her upbringing. The person who you do like is Gatsby himself, he has something of the true shakespearian tragic hero about him, he makes the ultimate sacrifice for love, and you get the feeling that he paid the price gladly. I was not sure that he saw through the glitzy surface of the world that he was trying so hard to be part of, he had been hypnotised by it as much as anyone, and I am certain that Daisy would have ruined him anyway because he had romanticised her as much as he had the lifestyle. I can see this is the kind of book that a reader could come back to over and over because I am sure in listening that there were things I missed. I like the fact that a book written of its own era has an atmosphere and language that cannot be copied by someone trying to write backwards, the fact of the author being there and living it makes the telling more authentic. Certainly it was an eyeopener and I will perhaps add something else by Fitzgerald to the pile.

1 comment:

  1. You should read Tender is the Night as well. I have a copy you can borrow.


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