Since finishing my re-read of The Great Gatsby I have been conscious of two nagging questions 1) How could I have forgotten how brilliant a novel it is? and 2) how on earth do I even begin to review what many people consider one of the greatest American novels of all time?
The Great Gatsby is a great American novel about the great American dream, with all its disillusions and disappointments. It is also a novel about the 1920’s society, that jazz age of bright young things and their endless parties, which was a world that Fitzgerald himself had experienced.
The narrator of the novel is Nick Carraway – a poor young bondsman a Yale graduate and war veteran – he has rented a small house on Long island right next to a huge mansion. The owner of the mansion is the mysterious Jay Gatsby, an enigma, a party giver who stands at a distance from the heady amoral society that he has collected around him. Gatsby appears to be a self-made man, the epitome of the American dream. Those who come to party at his house wonder about their host – who is Jay Gatsby? – is it true he once killed a man?
“In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.”
Nick’s cousin Daisy Buchanan a beautiful, fragile flapper is shallow and self-absorbed, married to the bullish Tom. Tom Buchanan is a violent white supremacist with a mistress who he proudly introduces to Nick. At the Buchanan’s house Nick meets Jordan Baker, a friend of Daisy’s and an amateur golfer with whom Nick begins a relationship. It’s Jordan who first tells Nick about Gatsby, and later that summer Nick receives an invitation to one of the glittering parties that lights up the bay.
Unknown to Tom Buchanan, Daisy once had a brief romance with Gatsby. Gatsby has been drawn to Long Island in his obsessive pursuit of Daisy who he loves terribly and hopelessly. Gatsby gazes at the green light at the end of the Buchanan’s dock across the bay from his own mansion – desperately longing to re-kindle their romance.
“And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.”
Meanwhile In the valley of ashes lives George and Muriel Wilson – George is a mechanic and garage owner, he works on Tom Buchanan’s car, Muriel is Tom’s mistress, she despises her husband, but is treated horribly by Tom. Nick is drawn into the story of Daisy and Gatsby orchestrating a reunion between the pair, feelings are reignited after the initial strained meeting. For anyone who has not read the book I’ll say no more, but of course the stage is set for tragedy and disillusion.
“His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed like a flower and the incarnation was complete.”
The Great Gatsby is quite simply a glorious piece of writing, generally considered to be Fitzgerald’s best work. It seems as if some of Fitzgerald’s earlier work suffers by comparison to Gatsby.
Just consider the last line of the novel:
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
How absolutely perfect.
Re-reading Gatsby has really whetted my appetite for more Fitzgerald, and I am reminded that I have never read his first novel – which I think generally, suffers in reviews from being unfairly compared to Gatsby – or his short stories, which I do have on my kindle. I was upset to discover I no longer own a copy of Tender is the Night – which I remember being mesmerised by and originally preferring to Gatsby – what happens to the books we think we own, but have disappeared?
Reading this wonderful novel has almost inevitably led me to the purchase of another book – which was absolutely crying out to me having finished Gatsby – but then I haven’t been buying that many books just lately – ok so that’s a lie.