It was by accident that I had never read The Great Gatsby. Half a decade ago, an obsession about this book seemed to take hold of my closest friends, but bypassed me for some strange reason, and then again a few years later, other friends were hit by the wave (they were studying it in English Lit) and at around the same time a new film adaption of it came to and went from the cinemas.
That I have not seen this film is another small wonder. After all, it had all a film needs to lure me into the red velvety seats: Some famous director (Stephen Spielberg? No?), Leo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan and Kanye West and all my friends raved on about it. I can’t actually remember the exact reason why I did not see it, but I suspect that it was an accumulation of factors (no money, all my friends had already seen it, had to study or at least pretend to do so, or really anything along those lines).
I finally did it now. Read the book that is, not watch the film. Usually when I read so-called “classics” that I have heard so much about before even opening the book, I have a repertoire of three possible reactions:
- I love it.
- I don’t love it. This can mean both indifference and a proper dislike.
- I love it but still close the book with a disappointed impression.
Gatsby was the latter. Most people will agree with me that there are some undeniably brilliant qualities to this work: I mean, just how it is written. Fitzgerald generally has a way of being ridiculously quotable, but he’s definitely grown beyond himself in Gatsby. And it’s not even the main plot that makes you think “this is so true”, but the detailed descriptions. Take the descriptions of the first of Gatsby’s parties that our narrator attends. Even though this is a posh, sophisticated party set about a century ago, there are so many parallels to parties I’ve been to (that were improvised, featured cheap liquor and 90s music), or maybe just universal truths. Here are my five favourite quotes from that passage:
The bar is in full swing and floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside until the air is alive with chatter and laughter and casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot and enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other’s names.
“(…) I’ve been drunk for a week now, and I thought it might sober me up to sit in a library.”
I had taken two finger bowls of champagne and the scene had changed before my eyes into something significant, elemental and profound.
“And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”
I was alone and it was almost two.
But then, marvelling at all this brilliance, as mentioned before, I was also stuck by some disappointment. There’s really only so much praise that a book of 50 000 words can sustain. The hype, the myth about this book as long outgrown it’s physical presence, the ink on the pages. This, of course, I can only judge from my point of view, which, in this case, is that of a leisurely reader. From the point of a scholar, or even just a year nine studying this book in class, I can only suspect how amass of literary devices and quirks the work is.
Here, as a way to end perhaps, is the quote that I think sums up the book best (back in my days of literary analysis and interpretation, oh boy, the amount of meaning I could have read into this one sentence…):
They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made…
B x (this post was part of an “Around the World Reading Challenge” I’m doing. Read all about it here!)