Book reviews

I spun The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald in the Classic Club’s most recent spin and admit to groaning slightly when I saw the result. I first read this book thirty years ago and at that time didn’t like the characters or the plot and couldn’t understand what made the book a classic. Watching and enjoying the over-the-top decadence of Baz Luhrmann’s movie several years ago caused me to add The Great Gatsby to my current list in the hope of appreciating this book better as an older reader.

While I didn’t find the characters to be any more likeable this time around, I have achieved a better appreciation of the book.

The story is told by Nick Carraway, a young man who has to make his way in the world despite having very good social connections. When Nick moved to Long Island after the Great War he reconnected with his cousin Daisy and her husband Tom, who were part of New York’s young, rich and beautiful set.

Although Nick didn’t particularly care for Tom he accompanied him on one occasions to New York, stopping along the way at a garage in an area dominated by a rubbish dump to collect Tom’s mistress Myrtle, who was the wife of the garage owner. When they arrived in New York To and Myrtle hosted a small party in a hotel room which ended when Tom slapped Myrtle and broke her nose.

Nick lived on Long Island next door to Jay Gatsby, a mysterious millionaire known for hosting extravagant open-house parties for people he didn’t know. Nick only met Gatsby after having been invited to one of his parties.

Gatsby, who was obsessed with Nick’s cousin Daisy, used Nick to engineer a meeting between himself and Daisy. Daisy and Gatsby had been in love before the war but at the time Gatsby was penniless and Daisy married Tom while Gatsby was still a soldier overseas. Rekindling their affair made Gatsby think he had achieved the American Dream, although Gatsby doesn’t realise he is in love with what Daisy symbolises for him socially, rather than with her as a person.

Eventually everything came to a head one extraordinarily hot day when Tom discovered that Daisy had been cheating on him. Gatsby and Daisy raced off to New York in Tom’s coupe, followed by Tom, Nick and Nick’s girlfriend, Jordan in Gatsby’s sedan. When they arrived the couples fought some more, then raced off home again, only for there to be a fatal accident at the garage where Myrtle and her husband lived. The tragedy is compounded by further reprehensible actions.

Jordan cheats at golf.

To me, this sentence sums up the morals of most of the characters in this story. They want to win without putting in the hard work required to deserve their success. They seek out amusement and love but they aren’t interested in earning anyone’s respect. They attend Gatsby’s parties and drink his boot-legged alcohol but they won’t befriend him because despite his wealth he will never be one of them. They grab whatever they want without taking any responsibility for their actions. If this story represents the American Dream, then in my opinion, this group of extraordinarily shallow and selfish people are welcome to it.

Disillusionment is what makes The Great Gatsby a classic. Exposing the shoddy morals of these fabulously wealthy characters is disappointing. I expect people who seemingly have everything to also have good morals, to be kind and giving. While there are plenty of extremely rich philanthropists who are wonderfully generous people in real life, their type are not represented by any character in this book.

The Great Gatsby was book eighteen in my Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics before my challenge end date of August 26, 2023.

Comments on: "The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald" (10)

  1. I read this with great interest, Rose, because like you, I really struggled with this one when I read it a few years ago. (So already an ‘older reader’ at the time.) Your post has helped cement the storyline for me. At the time of reading I was struggling with it so much that even the plot seemed hard to grasp despite it actually being relatively simple. I think I was just so bored and turned off by how unpleasant every single character was that I couldn’t take in the story line at all. Just a lot of nasty people leading aimless lives and playing nasty games.

    Since then I’ve read Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and it helped a bit. Of course there must be parallels given the closeness of the writers and their aims but I preferred Hemmingway’s portrayal of the Lost Generation to Fitzgerald’s. Although I never quite got used to H’s simplistic and pared back style, perhaps it helped me to see the story and the characters more clearly. Fitzgerald’s book is short but felt more wordy and meandering. Occasionally I wonder if I should attempt TGG again…. But no. Life’s too short!

  2. I know critical readers say it shouldn’t matter if characters are likeable or not but it does for me. I want to feel as if I’ve found friends in books or at least characters to respect and admire, but there was no one in The Great Gatsby who inspired me in any way, like you they completely put me off.
    I haven’t read The Sun Also Rises but will put it on the list. The only Hemingway book I’ve read was The Old Man and the Sea which was years ago, possibly for school. I remember the style but never wanted to read more of his work.
    I couldn’t agree more, life is too short for books we dislike and especially those with nasty characters. There is probably a life lesson in there, too!

  3. I’m with you, Rose; I need to find something likeable in a book to have any hope of connecting with it. Generally it’s at least one of the characters but it could be that I identify with the situation, or am helped to identify with a situation that is outside my experience. I can also cope with all of the above being missing if the writing itself is sufficiently high quality. (And the book isn’t too long!)

    I would not recommend The Sun Also Rises, though I’m not saying don’t try it, either. I’m still unsure what I think of Hemingway’s style and none of the characters in this short novel are particularly likeable, though definitely nicer than Fitzgerald’s. I felt I could understand what had led them to their attitudes and to this point in their lives which I didn’t find in TGG. There are also some sublime parts – the fishing trip stays in my mind. It’s the only Hemingway I’ve read and I do plan to read more before coming off the fence about him!

  4. I agree with everything you’ve said and wish I had said it myself, especially the bit about an unlikeable book not being too long 🙂
    I’m not generally a fan of serious books from the 1920s and 30s as I find the difference between the haves and the have-nots too extreme, the Jazz Age too frivolous and the poverty-stricken too dour. Thank goodness for Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse who lightened up the world!
    The Old Man and the Sea is Short, by the way 😉

  5. If you’re going to read Hemingway then I think you’d enjoy For Whom the Bell Tolls far more then The Sun Also Rises – I hated every character in it! In Gatsby, I love Jay Gatsby himself because somehow despite it all he seems the most honourable of them all. He’s such a tragic character, not because of the ending, but because he attains his dream but in doing so finds how worthless his whole ambition has been. I think I’ll have to fall out with you and Sandra if you don’t learn to love his book… 😉

  6. Okay, For Whom the Bell Tolls is now on the list ahead of The Sun Also Rises.
    Gatsby’s dream of something that proved unworthy is tragic, but his ending was probably a blessing. I disliked all of the characters so much that I don’t think I could ever love this book. I didn’t even like Gatsby and have been wondering ever since if I am ‘victim-blaming’ him. The book meets my criteria of a classic though, since I keep thinking about the characters.
    However, I loved Leonardo DiCaprio’s glamorous portrayal of Gatsby, will that appease you?

  7. Yes, you are victim-blaming him – you’re a cruel person! 😉 Have you seen the Robert Redford version? I’m sure my adolescent love for it has a lot to do with why I love the book so much. Mia Farrow is wonderful as Daisy, and made me love her. It took me quite a while to see past her beauty to the coldness, which made me understand why Gatsby fell for her so badly. I haven’t seen Leo’s version – must watch it.

  8. No, I haven’t seen the Robert Redford version yet. I had hopes of watching it before I reviewed the book but have not been able to wrest the television remote control out of He Who Eats All of Our Leftovers’ hands since we’ve been in lockdown. It’s lucky I prefer to read.
    The Leo version is typical of Baz Luhrmann’s style, over the top and decadent to the point of dizziness, but I loved it.

  9. What a great conversation! I didn’t understand Daisy at all when I first read the book but found Mia Farrow made sense of her, I think the Baz Luhrmann film is fantastic but is not instead of the Robert Redford, they sit very comfortably together!

    What I think is interesting is that when TGG was published it was very unpopular because it painted such a dismal light of the jazz age, compared to his previous books which had been best sellers (I haven’t read any yet but am about too). But the literary set EH etc were all surprised by it and finally saw him as one of them!

    A Moveable Feast by EH is the book I would recommend because it’s about his life in Paris in the 20’s, and is so interesting that when I came to read his fiction I was a bit more sympathetic toward his style. FSF is included because he’s already a rich, successful writer in the south of France while they’re all sponging off him!

    If you do read it please let me know what you think, it started a whole project for me into writing in the 20’s and 30’s.

  10. I know! These wonderful conversations make blogging a joy 😀
    I’m going to have to watch the Robert Redford/Mia Farrow version of TGG sooner rather than later. Carey Mulligan didn’t make a strong impression on me as Daisy compared to your and FictionFan’s opinion if Mia Farrow in the role.
    I didn’t know that TGG was unpopular with the public when it was published. Perhaps readers wanted to see the characters reflected back to them in a way they could admire and want to emulate, rather than seeing the celebrities of their day as dishonourable.
    At this rate my EH list is growing faster than any other author on my list and I don’t even know if I like him 😂

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