Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘F Scott Fitzgerald’

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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.

https://theclassicsclubblog.wordpress.com/

All the Sad Young Men by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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All the Sad Young Men is a collection of short stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald, all of which were new to me.

The collection starts with The Rich Boy, which tells the story of an exceedingly rich young man with commitment issues (as we would say now). Sadly for him, this young man felt himself unable to love any of the various women who loved him due to a sense of his own superiority, and by the age of thirty, felt as if he had missed his opportunity for happiness in the form of marriage.

I’m more than a bit cynical about the plot of The Rich Boy, even though the quality of the actual writing puts this author up with the ‘greats.’ One of the other characters ought to have told this precious fellow to get over himself.

Winter Dreams was a sadder story. A poor young man made something of himself, then fell in love with an ‘It Girl.’ The ‘It Girl’ dangled the young man on a string for her own amusement until she fell in love with someone else, got married and turned into a sad frump and of course the poor young man thought he would never get over the disappointment. Again, I felt as if someone should have advised this character to give himself ten years, by which time he would probably have forgotten the girl’s name. Perhaps I would have felt more sympathetic to this character’s troubles when I was young and romantic myself, but that is such a long time ago now….

My favourite story in the collection was Rags Martin and the Pr-nce of W-les. This story has the most glamorous heroine of all time in Rags Martin, who is everything any woman could want to be, except for feeling bored with people falling in love with her. Rags is rich, clever and charismatic. When she returned to the USA after five years in Europe she pushed an old flame into the Hudson River when he annoyed her by trying to command her attention, but there is more to this old flame than immediately apparent. If anyone is interested, you can read the story here;

http://www.gutenberg.net.au/fsf/RAGS-MARTIN-JONES.html

There are a number of stories in this collection about young men who are desperate to get ahead in the world. Hot and Cold Blood is the story of a man who discovers he must be true to his own nature in order to be happy. I don’t know why this theme isn’t used more often in fiction as it seems truer than many other things authors write about.

Absolution is supposedly a forerunner to The Great Gatsby, and features a boy who realises that God is not all-seeing. The Baby Party tells the story of a group of badly behaved new parents who discover that their children mean more to them than anything else ever will again.

All of the stories in this collection are set in the Jazz Age, a time which appears to be almost unbelievably glamourous. The joys and tragedies seem greater to these characters than anyone had ever felt before, and life for these characters is all or nothing. Probably this is true of every age, but F. Scott Fitzgerald expresses the urgency of young men who are desperate to experience life better that most authors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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