For some readers, this is the best novel of all time. The great American classic. It wasn’t successful in Fitzgerald’s lifetime but has since gained in popularity. When I read it a few years ago, I was underwhelmed. There didn’t seem to be much substance to this short novel and I wasn’t sure what it was trying to say. However, I recently found a DVD of the recent film adaptation in a charity shop and decided I had to re-read the book first. Fortunately I appreciated it more this time, although it will never be a favourite classic.
Set in 1920s America, the story is narrated by Nick Carraway, who has moved east to try his luck with selling bonds. He lives in the fictional town of West Egg in Long Island. In a mansion next door lives the mysterious Jay Gatsby, who holds legendary wild parties. Nick is drawn into spending time with him. Then there are Tom and Daisy Buchanan, terribly rich and unhappily married. Something tragic is going to happen. Meanwhile, Nick is casually dating the sporty and cynical Jordan Baker, a friend of Daisy’s. Nick is a rather mundane character. He tends to go with the flow. The drama of the story is told through his memories and observations.
I interpreted the novel as a critique of the American Dream and a portrait of the 1920s, glittering, shallow, crooked, reckless. There are obvious symbols everywhere. Daisy Buchanan is a fascinating character and I think if this novel had been written today, we would have had more of her perspective in the story. Gatsby himself is not likeable but he can be admired and pitied. I wasn’t keen on how very minor characters flitted in and out of the text, or were mentioned but didn’t actually appear. It’s too short a novel for that. The dialogue is one of the strengths, as to me it seems both realistic and sparkling.
First published in 1925. This edition is by Penguin Modern Classics, 2000, with a long unreadable introduction by Tony Tanner.