If you’ve been keeping up with the reviews I’ve been posting over the past month or so, you’ll see that the writing style in almost all of them seems to verge on, for lack of a better term, the experimental.
Everyone, since thought began, has been looking for new ways to depict the world that they see, however since modernity came into force there has certainly been more of a focus on it. The people, but more particularly the writers, got bored of the visions they were fed and craved a newer more abstract thought.
The books that we have covered so far traverse a diverse range of ideas but they all seem to have this underlying understanding that a straightforward telling of events would be insufficient for expressing what they had in mind. This has, in my opinion, led to some of the most interesting permutations that the novel, as a form, could take and has thus become almost a necessity in significant novel writing.
All this considered is perhaps why I was so surprised that “The Great Gatsby” attempted to do none of the above.
The novel was published in 1925 and depicts events from 1922 which might be part of the reason for its directness. Modernity is generally understood to have started with the beginning of the 20th century and perhaps F. Scott Fitzgerald was simply not interested in the shift of thought that favored a more abstract approach.
Whatever the case may be Fitzgerald manages, in spite of his choice of topic, to convey an earnestness in his writing that took me by surprise.
At the core of the novel is a love story. James Gatz aka Jay Gatsby is a mysterious millionaire who seemingly on a whim buys a house in Long Island and begins to hold lavish and ridiculously decadent parties for anyone who cares to come. Initially, we know little about him until we are told that he has come to win back Daisy, his ex-girlfriend and now wife of the equally rich and philandering Tom Buchanan; there is a lot of cheating and intrigue along the way.
I say ‘told’ because the story is presented to us through the narration of the rather straight laced and easy going, Nick Caraway. I don’t know what it says about my tastes that I find a second person narrative ‘simple’ but Fitzgerald certainly manages to make it seem that way.
Nick, in a witty almost disinterested sort of way, relates the events to the reader with the disposition of a reporter. There is corroboration, research, structure and just the right amount of personal input to convey personality and authenticity. In fact, if there is something I would like to laud in the writing aside from its general prettiness and wit, it would be the skillfulness with which the writer manages to depict Nick’s personality throughout without delving deeply into his life at all.
Most of you already know how the novel ends. It’s a tragedy, love is shown to be a sham and the decadence of the age is seen as a glorious but ugly excess that we are better off without. It’s all very neat in its own way. No one gets a happy ending and you can leave the book with a deep sigh and a sense that as long as you live in a more reasonable way your life won’t follow the same path.
The issues in the novel are very particular, they relate to wildly rich white people during the 20’s, which is a group you can only have a certain amount of sympathy for. I think the only black character in the novel is an unnamed man who shows up for one paragraph near the end of the novel. Though the writer seems to allude to greater issues facing the country that the characters just don’t seem bothered about, the references are so few and far between that the message doesn’t carry. What caught my eye instead were racist, misogynist and antisemitic lines thrown in very casually.
I don’t remember the last time I read a book that was antisemitic without trying to say something about it so you’ll forgive me if it gave me a bit of a jolt.
Overall the book has a lot of issues. While I could appreciate the writing, the obvious social and economic issues that plagued the novel put a bit of a dampener on things. The story was interesting and I did sympathize with all of them (except perhaps Tom who was just an unrelenting ass throughout) but for whatever reason, the book didn’t touch me like I expected it too.
I do think it’s worth a read and if you’re a bit younger than I am you might appreciate the air of faded glamor that clings to everything in the book and which made Lana Del Ray’s voice such a good fit for the movie adaptation, more than I did. But regardless check it out if you’re in the mood for an interesting but not too taxing read.
Rating- 3 stars