Paperback: 144 pages
Publisher: Wordsworth Editions; New edition edition (5th May 1992)
The exemplary novel of the Jazz Age, F. Scott Fitzgeralds' third book, The Great Gatsby (1925), stands as the supreme achievement of his career. T. S. Eliot read it three times and saw it as the "first step" American fiction had taken since Henry James; H. L. Mencken praised "the charm and beauty of the writing," as well as Fitzgerald's sharp social sense; and Thomas Wolfe hailed it as Fitzgerald's "best work" thus far. The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when, The New York Times remarked, "gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession," it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s that resonates with the power of myth. A novel of lyrical beauty yet brutal realism, of magic, romance, and mysticism, The Great Gatsby is one of the great classics of twentieth-century literature.
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Venturing today back into my vault of reviews to write one up for one of my favourite books. I didn’t stumble across this marvel, nor did I pick it up on a whim, but rather it was part of my A-Level reading requirement for English Literature at school. It was a daunting book for me at first, because of course the first time we read it, we allocated parts and characters to one another and had to do class readings - let’s not even get into the horror of that. The beauty of this book was lost on me during then, it was only after I left school that I took it upon myself to re-read it during university (since so aptly around that time, the movie was out featuring Leonardo DiCaprio). I’m one of those types, who likes to read a book before watching a movie, so that’s exactly what I did. Where am I going with this I hear you ask? Ha! Like you even need to ask at this point, as if my insane ramblings are something new to you *vigorous eye roll* but for your sake I will move on to the review :D
The Great Gatsby is an absolute classic and I don’t even like classics, but I love this story. The one thing that stood out to me during my A-Levels and even after that when I read it for pleasure, was the symbolism, the motifs and brilliant metaphors that littered the story and to this day, the metaphor about the green light remains one of my absolute favourite. When this book strikes you, and trust me, if you take your time to read it, it will strike you, and you’ll be left clutching this book to your chest and breathing heavily.
The characters are a spectrum of their own - that is to say some characters I loved so freaking much, whilst others I wanted to torch down whilst laughing gleefully; if you’ve read this, it won’t be too hard to figure out which end Gatsby is on, for example, and which end Daisy is on. But the fact that you can feel such intense emotions alone for each individual character, be it love or hate, that shows that Fitzgerald knows what he’s drawing out from each reader. In between those two contrasting spectrums, for me at least, lies the narrator, Nick Carraway, who is like the middle ground. Even to this day, I battle with myself on the opinion of whether I like Nick or if he annoyed me - and I’m still not sure which it has to be. He’s a useful cog, more than useful really, imperative actually, in moving along the story. He befriends (or rather Gatsby) befriends him and he is Daisy’s cousin - a neat little tie in which allows him to be partial to both parties, to reconnect the long lost relations between the two and in the end, witness the demise of what in this day and age, would have been branded as “Daisby” or “Gatsy”, pick your poison.
It can be easy to get lost in the heaviness of this book, because the language and storytelling isn’t easy and straightforward - but rather you have to work to understand it almost all the way through. The good thing about reading it for a-levels in this case was, that picking it apart, finding meaning in every inane sentence, was the whole point and ultimately when you read it that deeply, you do become hooked, you pay extra close attention, to really get what the story is about. So easily people can just write it off as some semi-tragic love story, but it goes deeper than that and there’s so man layers to this story. Dreams, The American Dream more specifically, the rise and fall of it, the demise, ambition, power, idealism, status, image. Such rich topics embedded in the story and that’s what made me come back to it after a-levels and read it for pleasure - and love it.
Like I mentioned before, the metaphor about the green light.. which is essentially this: “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter - tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther….” I don’t know quite why I cling to this quote more than any other throughout the whole book - I mean it’s not like it holds some great revelation for me - but it just seems like this phrase, that warrants your attention, demands you listen to it. I think it’s the whole concept behind what that light represented to Gatsby - that light was Daisy, his past, present and future Daisy, his own hardships, how he rose from it, to where he stands today. He thinks he’s attained everything that could make him happy in the checklist of life - money, notoriety, parties, social standing - all that’s left to complete the life he believes is perfect, is the attainment of Daisy. That’s wherein lies the tragedy in part to his dream, the attainment, the procurement of Daisy as if she’s the missing item that will allow him fulfilment. The idea that he holds of her, of who he wants her to be in his life, overpowers the reality of who Daisy actually is and all that is lost between them. Yet Gatsby is blinded by the vision, this green light at the end of his dock, he sees it as the light that’s within his reach, yet so far - that has been his whole life. There, but not quite there yet. The light is an illusion, just like his dreams. *cue small violins*.
All this lies against a backdrop of an era that echoes depression, riches and rags, rising dreams and broken dreams. The carnage that erupts in such a time, how you can go from one end of the spectrum to the other. It’s a tale of hope and hopelessness, a paradox that is essentially Jay Gatsby. Boy did I love Gatsby, I feel like you can’t help but love him. Such a fool he was, such a fool. For him, he lived and breathed a dream where money brought him happiness, his dreams of love were hinged on the green dollars; the more you get, the faster you get it, the quicker everything else, including love, will fall at your feet. *Plays Adele’s song - WE COULD HAVE HAD IT ALLLLLLLLL, ROLLING IN THE DEEEEEEP* You loveable fool, is the world we live in today any different, do people see love and money any differently?
“He smiled understandingly - much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced - or seemed to face - the whole eternal world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favour. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.” Nick Caraway, the narrator, was very much in love with Gatsby, that’s what I felt LOL and this quote proves it to me. Gatsby is larger than life for Nick, and for me, even though I’m still always torn between whether I like Nick or not, it does seem like he was the only voice of reason between Daisy and Gatsby. But even then, how much can we rely on Nick as a narrator? Also. I did not like Daisy. Nope. That’s all I shall say.
It goes without fail that if the book is mentioned, I have to mention the movie. Very few times do I love a movie adaption to a book almost as much as the book itself - in this case, I felt like the movie did the book justice. For me, The Great Gatsby is in part cinematic brilliance, the scenes, the acting, the camera angles, it’s a vision to behold. DiCaprio’s acting was phenomenal, I loved him even more for what he brought to Gatsby’s character so naturally. There’s a specific scene, which I watch over and over with bated breath in the movie, simply for DiCaprio’s appearance, his expression, the whole set scene and it’s this part. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ka-TT8BhIMs “My life has got to be like this. It has to keep going up.” Ah brilliance, such finesse.
Is this review getting too long? I know you’re all too kind to stop me, so I’ll stop myself. I loved this book and the movie - don’t be put off by the hype of this story and the legend that it proclaims to be - it is amazing, but when you pick it up and discover that on your own, you’ll come to love it, really love it, in the way that I did.