I have mixed feelings about this book. Or I think I do (?)
I’m afraid that my view of it – as I was reading it, and now that I’ve finished it – was tainted too much by other people’s opinions of it (good and bad), and by having watched the movie (in August last year, I believe).
I’d been waiting until sufficient time had passed since watching the movie before I tried reading the book, but maybe it wasn’t enough. Maybe no length of time would really be enough. I mean, when I picked up the book, I didn’t remember a whole lot of what actually happened from watching the movie, but the emotional memory was still there, and I had vague recollections of the characters.
It probably doesn’t help that I’d picked up my copy from the library, and the only available copy was the movie edition. Some part of me actually recoiled at the sight of the movie cover, and I almost put it back and walked away. Nothing against the actors – it’s just that I have some inexplicable aversion to people’s faces on book covers. (I could probably write a whole post about this, so I won’t even get started here.)
The only other F. Scott Fitzgerald novel I’ve read is Tender is the Night, which I absolutely loved, but it did take a while to really “get into” it. As The Great Gatsby is significantly shorter than Tender, it seems more severe to “take a while to get into it”. I think I was somewhere in the middle of the book before I was really absorbed and enchanted by the story and the writing. (Enchantment seems to be a bit of a thing with this novel.)
Maybe it also had something to do with the random selection of books I’ve been reading lately.
Maybe I don’t know enough about 1920s America to really appreciate the novel.
Maybe I’ve had too much else going on in my life to be able to read it like it should be read.
At one point, toward the end, I was reflecting on differences and similarities between The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night. When I read Tender, I thought it was beautifully tragic. Of course, it was so much more than just that, but that’s the phrase I’ll probably always associate with it. As for Gatsby, you could probably call it “beautifully tragic” too, but I’m more inclined to say it’s endearingly despairing, or something to that effect.
I’ve seen criticism of the story as being too much about “rich people problems”, and I can see why people would make comments like that, but I think there’s more to Gatsby than monetary extravagance and the woes that follow it. For one, Gatsby’s misguided desperation – his yearning for the past, and unwavering belief that he can resurrect a lost relationship – doesn’t really have anything to do with social class or socio-economic status. Those are just the means by which he tries to achieve his ends.
One of the most memorable parts of the novel, for me, is toward the end of Chapter 6, when Gatsby and Nick (the narrator) are talking after one of Gatsby’s parties (which Daisy attended too, after their reunion). I think these sentences sum it up nicely:
He talked a lot about the past, and I gathered that he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy. His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could once return to a certain starting place and go over it slowly, he could find out what that thing was.
Nick later comments on Gatsby’s “appalling sentimentality”, but there’s always something of admiration or infatuation in Nick’s regard for Gatsby. Of course, Gatsby’s character is impeccably constructed and shaped throughout the novel, but Nick’s character comes through distinctly as well.
I think I’ll have to wait a long time before I re-read The Great Gatsby, but it’s certainly on the list of potential re-read candidates. You know, I actually almost wish I’d studied it in high school (my class did Pride & Prejudice instead). The more I think about it, the more I realise there’s so much to think about, and so much to delve into. Considering it’s a short novel, F. Scott Fitzgerald certainly put a lot of depth into it.