Review first published 18/08/12
After the war, mysterious Jay Gatsby, a self-made millionaire pursues wealth,riches and the lady he lost to another man with stoic determination. When Gatsby finally does reunite with Daisy Buchanan, tragic events are sent in motion. Told through the eyes of his detached and omnipresent neighbour and friend, Nick Carraway, Fitzgerald’s succinct and powerful prose hints at the destruction and tragedy that awaits.
As I previously said in a “Stacking The Shelves/Showcase Sunday/Sunday Post” posting, I had never read “The Great Gatsby” before being introduced to this book by Amy from the “Booktastical” vlog and I had never seen the film starring Robert Redford in the role of Gatsby.
The book is very much, to paraphrase the soccer term, “a book of two halves”. The first half follows narrator Nick Carraway in his journey into Long Island society, firstly through his second cousin Daisy and her husband Tom Buchanan, and then, through chance meetings and a fateful invitation, with the eponymous Jay Gatsby.
I have to admit that the first half of the book was difficult for me to follow, partially due to my ignorance of the society of 1920s New York and partially due to the fact that the chapters within the first section of the book feel seemingly disconnected with each other and a little bit choppy for my personal taste.
However, and with hindsight necessarily to keep the reader’s attention, there is a “long game” to this book and the second and third “acts” tie up the various plot strands which I thought had no bearing on each other.
Fitzgerald is very descriptive when it comes to his narration of geography, particularly the “Valley of Ashes” and the blue eyes of the ophthalmologist sign for Doctor T J Eckleburg, which is very haunting when first read, along with the opulence described for Gatsby’s palatial home.
The characters are equally well written and fully rounded whether it be a main character like the honest Nick, the flighty and beautiful Daisy or the hard hearted millionaire Tom who, in present day context, would be considered a racist, or a minor character such as the loafer/sponger Klipspringer or “Owl Eyes” – the man who has a unique fascination with Gatsby’s library. No character is wasted within the span of the story.
The most fascinating character is Gatsby himself. As a reader, I was led down the same garden path as, presumably a lot of his fictional guests are as you hear apocryphal stories and half-truths which led me to build this enigma around Gatsby. In fact, even when you eventually meet Gatsby, you don’t know what is real and what is myth… even when he tries to convince Nick of his good intentions prior to his fateful reunion with Daisy.
Is this book a classic? Undeniably so. It is well written and works by giving the reader information on a piece-meal fashion as you learn about who Gatsby is throughout the book… right up to the very ending.
Had this book not been introduced to me, would I have read it? I have to admit, probably not. It was a tough book to get into and had it not been for somebody recommending it to me, I probably wouldn’t have made it through the first few chapters.
Am I glad that I have read it? Yes. The challenge of persevering with this book made it an enjoyable and worthwhile read. Albeit one that I may not re-read in the future.