Isn’t it funny how the idea of reading a famous book like this sometimes becomes bigger than the actual reading of it turns out to be. That’s not to say I didn’t like it because I did and can see why it has the reputation it does. But I was thinking it would be a lot harder work than it was and at under 200 pages it was much shorter than I was expecting. Having said that, there is so much to take from the book, I’m sure there are subtleties I’ve missed – a book to put on the rare re-read list.
Over the years there have been numerous publications of this book and I have loved looking at all the different covers and am waiting now with anticipation for the latest film adaptation with Leonardo dicaprio and Carey Mulligan set to star as Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan. I think they will both be perfect in those roles. I first saw Carey Mulligan in An Education; she was fantastic, I really like her as an actress.
The story is set in New York and Long Island in the 1920’s where Jay Gatsby moves into a mansion in the area, hosting lavish parties each Saturday night. Gatsby is a bit of an enigma, people flock to his parties in droves but often not even meeting their host. His background is sketchy with rumours that he may have “killed a man once…”. He has all that money can buy but of course money can’t buy everything and this is a tale that illustrates perfectly that it doesn’t buy happiness either.
The only really reliable character is Nick Carroway who is also the narrator and the link between the characters. His beautiful cousin Daisy Buchanan lives close to Gatsby with her macho and unfaithful husband Tom.
The Great Gatsby is a glimpse into what life was like in the 1920’s ‘jazz age’ in the years following the end of the war when anything seemed possible again and life was to be enjoyed. It feels very much of a bygone age and is theatrical and tragic. It also based on an illusion that life and people can be manipulated in a certain way. It is full of contrasts, love and loneliness and I know that I have just skimmed the surface, that there is more to discover.
For me it was the picture it painted rather than the actual characters that I appreciated the most. I haven’t read anything quite like it before. Knowing that the dynamics between the characters in this book resembled those of Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda makes it all the more intriguing. I have dipped my toe into their world and can’t wait to discover more.
177 pages, 1925 (penguin modern classics 2000)