Many people seem to find it odd that I was never assigned to read The Great Gatsby (Gutenberg Australia epub version) in either high school or college. It was assigned, as I remember it, to the “advanced” or “honors” English classes which I did not take. I was not what you would call an “overachieving” student at any point. Which is kinda that point of this “Great Read Through” in that through my lack of motivation and general apathy I’ve missed out on/skipped over the building blocks of the popular culture (maybe even culture itself) that I so love. And this is a quintessentially American book that deserves the recognition its received.
Set in the “Roaring 20s” in post- World War I New York, the story revolves around dreams, betrayal, disillusionment, and extreme
wealth. I’ve discussed the broad strokes before but what makes the book a completely different beast than the movie is the tone. The film, at least Luhrmann’s version, takes a dreamy quality where nothing feels fully grounded in reality. But the book is far more to the point.
There’s not a lot of messing about establishing mood, Fitzgerald simply begins telling the story he wants to tell. The first person narrative provided by the Carraway character is a double edged sword: we get the access to the story but the character himself is…not a great person. He’s naive, judgmental, and kind of a prude. I can’t tell if the character is written this way as a reaction to the events around him or if Fitzgerald simply developed an outsider character and got swept up in it. Carraway’s idealism is grating as is his prudishness towards the events around him. It’s like he’s more disgusted by the minor infractions than the major ones that should cause disgust. Oh, and for a narrator he has a completely non- event and mostly off-page relationship. How his relationship doesn’t frequently impact his own story is baffling until you realize that Carraway has no story and exists solely to tell Gatsby’s story. Quite why he even has this (I can’t even call it a sub)plot as it adds literally nothing to the story.
The rest of the characters are basic archetypes. As the story is told though another perspective, we can only infer who and what they are through that lens. Gatsby is a flawed and mysterious rich guy, Daisy is bored and drinks a lot, Tom is a quick to anger white supremacist, and Jordan is…a golfer…I guess. Everyone is described in look an actions in the most basic terms allowing you to fill in the blanks. And even though the narrative reads to modern eyes as overly verbose, and at time borderline redundant Fitzgerald tells a solid and engaging story. It wastes little time and hits all the points it should.
The one thing I will say as a determent is that this book isn’t entertaining. It’s a portrait of a bygone era and a fictionalized version of an aspect of that. But there isn’t any inherent joy to the story. I liked it, it was a good read and it was well written but this isn’t a book that screams “distracting beach read” so much as “melancholy and morose.” But, it’s well layered, interesting, and a surprising amount happens in its short page count. A