The Great Gatsby

Though largely ignored when it was first published and even upon F.Scott Fitzgerald’s death, the thousands of anticipated copies sold would sit gathering dust in a warehouse, it has since become much more appreciated, hailed as a classic and studied in schools across America.

great gatsbyIt may be that in its time it was too contemporary, its characters variations on the lives people lived, each harbouring their own secrets, many trying to be or become something they were not. It is something that is easier to look on and remember the superficial elements that made it an era to remember, a time of lavish parties and abundance, when friendships were shallow and loyalties non-existent. Set in the jazz era, critics have said it represents the American psyche, to me it represents illusion and aspiration.

AFF_CANNES_22X30.inddBaz Luhrmann’s adaptation with Leonardo DiCaprio playing Gatsby, will open the Cannes Film Festival on May 15. It promises to be a lavish affair and I can see why a filmmaker would be attracted to this story, the author doesn’t paint much of a picture of the surroundings, except to place them just outside New York, the weekend playground for the young and aspiring. The evening soirées are not significant to the plot, but they create wonderful images to entice a film audience.

Ironically, it is in the first pages of his novel Tender is the Night in which I find not only the kind of writing I love to read, but a paragraph that describes Cannes itself, a town Fitzgerald was no stranger to:

In the early morning the distant image of Cannes, the pink and the cream of old fortifications, the purple Alp that bounded Italy, were cast across the water and lay quavering in the ripples and rings sent up by sea-plants through the clear shallows.

In addition to the film remake, Therese Fowler’s, Z – A Novel of Zelda, based on the life of Zelda Fitzgerald was released this month, with comparisons being made with The Paris Wife, Paula McCain’s book about Hemingway’s first wife Hadley Richardson and the years they were together. It has been said that Gatsby is drawn a little from Fitzgerald’s own experience in wooing Zelda, a young woman from outside his social strata and therefore in ordinary circumstances, unattainable, just as Daisy was to Gatsby.

GatsbyThe Great Gatsby is narrated by Carraway, a bonds trader in New York, a young man who lives in the small house next to Gatsby, which is not far from the home of his second cousin Daisy and her husband Tom. He is a narrator of convenience to the story, a sympathetic observer we don’t learn much about, his purpose to share that summer he became Gatsby’s neighbour and witnessed the events that occurred. Although, he is a mere bystander, he is the one friend Gatsby may have had in truth. Not much is known of Gatsby either and Fitzgerald keeps it that way, none of the characters getting too close to him, or indeed the reader.

The history of the summer really begins on the evening I drove over there to have dinner with the Tom Buchanans.

A visit to Daisy reveals the philandering ways of her husband Tom, when he takes a telephone call from his mistress, a fact that is clear to all present. Daisy and Tom come from ‘old money’ and unlike the middle classes or nouveau-riche, their indiscretions are rarely secret or indulged with regret, it is accepted, it is their way.It is those who hail from more humble beginnings who harbour illusions of romantic love, who carry emotional expectations and suffer in consequence.

Daisy is connected with Gatsby, although they haven’t seen each other in five years; Carraway’s arrival next door signals a turning point in their association.

There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams – not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man can store up in his ghostly heart.

Fitzgerals

The Fitzgerald family

Overall, I find the book a little perplexing, it seems more a symbol of a past era, the 1920’s America and although it doesn’t feature in the book, there is undoubtedly the author’s connection with Paris, the French Riviera and The Lost Generation, that group of writers who made France their home and way of life, a subject that continues to fascinate every generation since, more so in current times perhaps than it did in their own.

The language used and the guarded distance from its characters I found a little annoying, though to be expected of a book of its era perhaps.  More than this, it felt as if the author were holding back from his own past through Gatsby, thus a kind of cathartic writing experience, only he might risk losing everything by being too honest, so he deliberately keeps things vague. Having said that, I am going to read Tender is the Night and already find the first few pages, a lot more free and open in its language, though I suspect Fitzgerald of having ulterior motives in his storytelling.

ZThe Facts: 10 Things You Should Know about The Great Gatsby – in pictures

The Film Trailer: Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation will open the Cannes Film Festival in May 2013 starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan

Z is for Zelda: – the novel out in April 2013 about the life of Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F.Scott Fitzgerald

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27 thoughts on “The Great Gatsby

    • It’s interesting to pick up books many years later and see if they still resonate, exactly what I alluded to in my previous post, digging up 5 books that still continue to resonate for me and one of them I tested earlier in the year, just to make sure.

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  1. Like Beth Anne I read these books years ago when I was in my twenties and remember being completely beguiled by a life that was so remote from my own. With all the publicity there has been recently I’ve thought a number of times about going back to Fitzgerald, but I think it will be ‘Tender is the Night’ that I pick up because that is the one i have the best memories of. Mind you, perhaps that is a good reason not to re-read it for fear of having those memories spoiled.

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    • I’m looking forward to reading that next and was delighted by the start of it. There is so much written about his work, it’s best just to ignore it all and read him instead! But I love the whole celebration of his work and the reimagining his story into film and totally support that these men’s women are getting more limelight this century!

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  2. I have read The Great Gatsby a few times but still think I need to read it again. I absolutely loved Tender is the Night when I was in my twenties, partly because I was in the South of France at the time, probably a good time to give it another go. The film is going to have everyone reading his books, not a bad way to get people into them though.

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    • I can’t wait to read Tender is the Night, especially knowing that he will have written it from that experience and appreciation of being there, and of course, how could I not be tempted when I live there myself. Those first few pages depicting Cannes are already wonderful, can’t wait to continue, my current read is moving very slowly!

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  3. I just read this book too, but my head was too full of other things to do it justice in a review. I think I’ll just replace mine with a link to yours. 🙂

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  4. Pingback: Review: The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald | Musings

  5. Informative review, job well done…. but I’m not going to read this book. Sparks just don’t fly. The book is gathering dust in my bookcase and there are other books that call to me. Many of these books recommended by you!

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  6. Hi. Zelda and Scott Fitz lived their LA life’s out in the house next to where we live in LA. some days I can still feel the NAMES that played Big Lives on our corner. Can u bring me a copy to read when we go down to AA on May 9 th for a week. Or I can get one here. When is good for us to chat this week. I realise that you are with Ayman all week Xx Andrew

    Sent from my iPhone

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  7. This book was terrible…when i read it at school, looking back now, i realise i was just to dumb to appreciate how layered and great it was. Finally a book that you mention that i have actually read, a rare occasion indeed, love your words.

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    • Nothing wrong with first impressions in school and I imagine you were responding to the writing and some of the cliched dialogue which does grate a bit and probably while it was panned in it’s own time. It’ only with hindsight that many have realised its worth. Glad to have read something you can relate to, even if it evokes such a distant memory.

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  8. Nice review, Claire. I read ‘The Great Gatsby’ many years back and I remember liking the prose very much – my copy of the book has so many highlighted passages – but I also remember wondering why it was so highly acclaimed. I think I should read it again to appreciate it better.

    I loved your review for the way you have brought in different things – that beautiful passage from ‘Tender is the Night’, the links to other book on / by Fitzgerald and sharing your thoughts on the movie version of ‘The Great Gatsby’. I want to read ‘Tender is the Night’ sometime.

    I have to also ask you this. Have you seen the movie ‘The Roaring Twenties’? It is a James Cagney movie which was set in the Gatsby-era and the specialty of the movie was that it was also filmed at around that time. Also, have you seen the Woody Allen movie ‘Midnight in Paris’? Your discussion on the ‘Lost Generation’ group of writers made me remember this movie in which Hemingway, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso are featured.

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    • It’s a good time to reread Fitzgerald now, with the film out, a new book about his wife Zelda just out and Penguin are even republishing John O’Hara’s novel, Appointment In Samarra because of it’s association with this era in America’s history.

      I don’t recall seeing The Roaring Twenties, but it sounds great and yes I did see Midnight in Paris which I enjoyed for the most part, though the acting was a little contrived and difficult to escape into, but the intention was great as was Paris of course. In fact, I do love how Woody Allen is playing out his dream fulfillment stage of life, making movies to show off the most beautiful and faithful women of his life – the seductive cities of Europe, Barcelona, London, Paris, Rome – I wonder where will be next? Istanbul perhaps.

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  9. This new adaptation of ‘The Great Gatsby’ is going to be one to see. Whether it happens in NZ, in between the Hollywood eye candy spectaculars with vaprous intellectual content that the chain cinemas seem to delight in serving up on the back of commercial gain (and demand), is another matter…:-)

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  10. Loved this book! Loved the movie too, though the two are totally different. Still, each is beautiful in its own way:)

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  11. I must have missed something with this book. I didn’t really enjoyed it. In the way that although being a short book, the action takes place more at the end. After closing the book I was a bit puzzled thinking that it was quite sad and not what I expected.

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    • I actually read this in anticipation of reading Z – A Novel of Zelda and then started Tender is the Night which I have never got back to because the writing and the characters became intolerable to spend more time with. However I am neglecting Zelda, and must get back to her book soon!

      Thanks for following and leaving such wonderful comments.

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