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Review Revisited: F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby

February 13, 2014

Re-read. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

Length: 216 pages
Genre: General Fiction; Classics

Originally Read: 21 November 2006
Re-read Finished: 22 January 2014

Where did it come from? I suspect it was my brother’s from high school; it was on one of the bookshelves at my parents’ house.
Why do I have it? It was my book club’s pick for Classics Month!

Daisy: the only
girl who’s more substantial in
dreams than in real life.

Summary: When Nick Carraway rented a small cottage in West Egg, Long Island, he soon found himself in the orbit of the mysterious Jay Gatsby. Gatsby is Nick’s neighbor, owner of a fabulous mansion and host of the most extravagent Jazz Age parties around. But no one really knows Gatsby, or where he came from. One of the only people who knew Gatsby before is Daisy, Nick’s cousin, who is now married to the wealthy but philandering Tom Buchanan. Daisy is the girl that Gatsby never got over, and he now longs for nothing more but to reclaim the past, whatever the cost to the people around him – or to his own carefully constructed persona.

Original Review: The biggest disappointment so far in my drive to read stuff I should have read in high school. The plot was thin and soap-opera-ish, the characters were uniformly lifeless and unpleasant, and the prose, while proficient, didn’t seem to me to be anything special. Maybe it functions best as a “portrait of an age” piece, but if so, the jazz age must have been nearly terminally boring. I would have stopped reading it altogether if it hadn’t been so short…. I wouldn’t have missed much.

Thoughts on a Re-Read: I didn’t dislike this book nearly so much the second time around, but I still didn’t like it much. It did make for a very interesting book club discussion, about wealth and class and mobility, and what makes a classic a classic, and the various symbolism (heavy-handed – ye gods, with the green light! – and otherwise), and whether Daisy was a multi-dimensional character (no) and whether that was maybe intentional to set the real, flat Daisy against Gatsby’s imagined (and therefore flat) Daisy. So there was a lot of meat for discussion, and I can totally see why this is assigned in so many high school classes (although not any of mine) – it’s an approachable book, not intimidating, but there’s plenty of layers to tease apart… and if critical reading and literature analysis is a skill, it makes sense to have high schoolers practice on something like Gatsby.

But I found that discussing the book was much more enjoyable than actually reading it. I still find all of the characters pretty much totally unlikable (which may have been the point, but makes it hard for me to get into the reading.) I may not have given the plot the fairest shake the first time around – what happens is soapy, for sure, but I got more into Gatsby’s inner motivations this time, which made things more interesting. I’m still on the fence involving the prose itself. Someone at our book club mentioned that this book is an excellent example of elegance of craft, not one sentence longer than it needed to be, and I can see that, for sure. But most of the time I didn’t get the sense of poetry from Fitzgerald’s prose that other people talk about. (With the exception of the line about Gatsby’s count of enchanted objects had diminished by one. Back to that damned green light again, but that’s so perfectly put.)

In general, there’s just something about this book that I just don’t get. It was fun to discuss, and easy enough to read, but it just doesn’t click with me the way it does with other people. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

What do you think, readers? Is Gatsby really great? Am I just a complete Philistine who wouldn’t know great literature if it kicked her square in the West Egg?

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Other Reviews: Everyone has read this book. Find a bunch of other reviews over at the Book Blogs Search Engine.

First Line: In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 23: “I knew now why her face was familiar – its pleasing contemputous expression had looked out at me from many rotogravure pictures of the sporting life at Asheville and Hot Springs and Palm Beach.” – An intaglio printing process in which letters and pictures are transferred from an etched copper cylinder to a web of paper, plastic, or similar material in a rotary press.
  • p. 50: ““This fella’s a regular Belasco.”” – American playwright and theatrical producer known for his realistic stage settings and innovative lighting effects.
  • p. 171: “When Michaelis’s testimony at the inquest brought to light Wilson’s suspicions of his wife I thought the whole tale would shortly be served up in racy pasquinade – but Catherine, who might have said anything, didn’t say a word.” – A satire or lampoon, especially one that ridicules a specific person, traditionally written and posted in a public place.
  • p. 175: “It was Gatsby’s father, a solemn old many very helpless and dismayed, bundled up in a long cheap ulster against the warm September day.” – A loose, long overcoat made of heavy, rugged fabric and often belted.a
  • p. 201: “But if some sort of business activity of his were simply adumbrated, it would lend further probability to that part of the story.” – To give a sketchy outline of.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. February 13, 2014 12:21 pm

    One day I really should read this…

    • March 4, 2014 10:25 am

      Kailana – It’s really short, and the prose is not particularly dense, so it wouldn’t be a major time investment.

  2. February 15, 2014 10:24 am

    I have never read this one… I know I should ;)

    • March 4, 2014 10:26 am

      Sheila – I have so many books that fit that description…

  3. February 15, 2014 11:05 am

    I had a pretty similar reaction to you – the book was easy to read and maybe I’d have enjoyed it more in discussion. I did not see why anyone would have fallen for Daisy, and agree that almost none of the characters was likeable!

    • March 4, 2014 10:28 am

      Ela – My edition had a fair number of editorial notes and included a quote from Fitzgerald about how the book wasn’t selling because women control the fiction market and his book has no “real” women characters, which I thought was particularly telling re: Daisy.

  4. February 16, 2014 7:03 pm

    Oh, well, you’re a Philistine. ;-) But you did it two reads, which is something, and much more than most people who didn’t like it the first time around would do. I recommend not looking into the light quite so much; pay more attention to the valley of the ashes and the billowing curtains instead. There’s a lot of poetry there.

    That said, I also recommend that you never read this book again. Two tries is plenty.

    • March 4, 2014 10:30 am

      James – Oh, yes, the billowing curtains were quite nice. But the valley of the ashes brings up Dr. Eckleburg’s eyes, which is almost as bad as the green light. :)

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