The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


The Great Gatsby
They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.

Where's that "I finally did it" cap? I probably need to celebrate reading this book by wearing that cap for a week. I know this book was required reading for many of you (in high school? college?) but back in India, very few students had heard of Fitzgerald. So I never heard of this book until a few years ago, after I first came to the US. But it wasn't until Leonardo DiCaprio was cast as Gatsby that I really gave this book my attention. The short length and fast pacing of the book were bonus points, in my opinion.

But the Jazz age isn't a period I like reading about. I prefer to stay away from books about riches and lavish lifestyles - they disgust me, irrespective of what the author's intent is. I recently started another Jazz age book, only to give up on it, about 100 pages short of the end. I could have finished it, but I was bored of it and wasn't even interested in the characters.

During the first 30 pages of The Great Gatsby, I came close to putting the book down, but the idea of not having this book on the wish-I-had-read-it-by-now list was enticing. Good for me, because after the initial boredom, The Great Gatsby began to get more intense and almost suspenseful. I had no idea what would happen and wanted to turn the last page to find that out. Nick Carraway moves to the Long Island to try to make a living in bonds after the World War II. He meets and comes to know Jay Gatsby, who is his neighbor. Gatsby isn't at all like he seems to be - he is quite restless and behind his cool, rich and I-love-my-party-guests demeanor, there seems to be something urgent stirring him. We come to know what that is midway through the story and that secret sets the theme for the rest of the book.

I can't say I liked any of the characters in this book. Except for Nick, and occasionally Gatsby, none of the characters grew on me. I wish we had less Daisy and more Jordan in the book - Jordan seemed mature, Daisy very impetuous. But I liked that the characters carved their roles well, even though the book is pretty short. By the end of the book, it wasn't hard to describe each character with a few adjectives - they definitely made their mark.

What bugs me about books like these is the lack of personal feeling evoked by the writing. The characters almost feel like cardboard props because their language doesn't quite express themselves, instead everything they say feels forced. Daisy's frequent exultation was quite annoying but her friend Jordan helped provide the balance whenever the duo were together. The narration also, while mostly giving the impression of being fast-paced, occasionally made me feel that I missed something crucial. I had to reread parts to understand what happened. At one point, I totally got the wrong dead guy, and it was a few pages before I realized my mistake and had to go back. I can see why this book is on the school reading lists. I could get a kick out of asking my students to paraphrase some passages.

Ultimately, I'm glad I read this book but I don't think I ever got the whole appeal of it. I can see that it is a good study of that time period and symbolically, there are a lot of things to talk about (if you read the book slow enough). I do want to watch the movie though - I can see this book being something I could enjoy on screen.

I borrowed this book from the good old library.

8 comments:

bermudaonion(Kathy) said...

It's been years since I read this but I remember enjoying it. I get what you mean about the writing, though - it lacks emotion.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

I haven't read it. I'm not sure I ever will. I think you'll like the movie though.

Athira / Aths said...

I guess it was enjoyable in a certain way. I could not put it down for sure but I do wish there was some more emotion.

Athira / Aths said...

I'm looking forward to watching the movie sometime! :)

Sam_TinyLibrary said...

This wasn't required reading at school in the UK either and like you I read it as an adult. I actually had a similar, mixed reaction but I did go on to read Tender is the Night, which blew me away. The emotional connection was just so much better.

Athira / Aths said...

I remember reading you say that you loved Tender is the Night. I should give that book some consideration, especially since there seems to be more emotion in that.

Lisa Sheppard said...

I've read this one twice and I'm still not sure I get the whole appeal. I definitely got something different out of it than I did when I was twenty years younger. And I can definitely see that it's beautifully written. But I can't say I like it.

Athira / Aths said...

I'm glad that I am not the only one. I'm sure this book has its merits, but it looks to me to be more from an academic standpoint than mere pleasure. Maybe, I would appreciate it more as an English major or 20th century history buff. But it's beautifully written - that's true!