Book Review: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott FitzgeraldPosted: March 13, 2013
This is one of those books I’ve heard of years before I actually got around to reading it. When I was 14 our English teacher gave us a recommended reading list of books to check out before we started our GCSEs course. I think the idea was to make sure we were all up to the task and not still working our way through the Goosebumps books or the exploits of the Famous Five.
Being a nerdy teen, I used to read a lot, and I did tick a few off the list and try with others. One of the books on the list was this book, which I quickly came to understand was regarded as one of those great classics of literature.
With a new film adaptation due out later this year and constant references to it in other books and movies, I decided I’d check the book out. Whenever a book is described as being a classic I always have the mental image of a massive doorstop of a book, but I was pleasantly surprised by this book, which turned out to be on the small side, but still perfectly formed.
The novel is narrated by Nick Carraway, who moves to New York in the early 1920s and recounts a summer in the city when he rented a house next door to a mysterious figure, Jay Gatsby. Carraway’s cousin, Daisy, lives across the bay from him with her husband, Tom, in a strained marriage due to Tom’s infidelity.
Carraway meets Gatsby, who hosts lavish, decadent parties every week and begins warming to him, despite his neighbour’s secretive ways and vague, shady past. It soon becomes apparent that Gatsby knows Daisy, and wishes to meet her once more, which sets in motion a series of events which build to a shocking, tragic conclusion.
First of all, this is a book that genuinely deserves all it’s praise, as it is sublimely written by Fitzgerald. Throughout the book there are wonderful turns of phrase from the author and he shows great skill with his descriptions, perfectly capturing the debauched, decadent parties of the roaring twenties, and the shambolic, drunken guests at Gatsby’s.
The characters are sketched wonderfully, as seen from the perspective of Carraway, and a lot is conveyed by their mannerisms and how they carry themselves. Fitzgerald does a fabulous job of creating this world inhabited by wealthy, successful people who are nonetheless fragile, damaged types, constantly at the mercy of their failings and weaknesses.
In particular is the titular character, a smooth, enigmatic figure who’s revealed to be a rather endearing construction of a young man’s idea of what success should be, and is gripped by obsession and a refusal to move on from when he was genuinely happy.
The narration is handled very well, with Carraway’s cynicism shining through at several points and his own opinions of the people and their actions fluctuating as he recounts the story.
It’s this cynicism that ensures you can never get too caught up with the lavish parties, and Fitzgerald always has his narrator stay until the end, when the fun has stopped and the party is over, with bickering, embarrassment and misadventure arriving. There’s a stifling atmosphere at times, giving the impression that the characters are trapped in their lives and that their drunken excesses and flirtations merely provide brief releases.
Early on in the book there’s a pervading feel of melancholy and a sense that there will be no happy ending to the story. Fitzgerald allows his story to reveal itself slowly and naturally, building towards a tragic series of events which left me reeling.
The skill of the writer is impressive, but it also succeeds as an engaging and oddly enjoyable read, with great characters and an intriguing, captivating central character.
Verdict: A fantastically written and enjoyable read, Fitzgerald is a wonderful writer, and his prose is filled with evocative descriptions and clever turns of phrase. 9/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.