Neither love nor loathing…a review of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

  
“You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.”
I’ve always been glad I said that. It was the only compliment I ever gave him, because I disapproved of him from beginning to end.  
         

First of all, I have to confess that I finished reading The Great Gatsby over two weeks ago, but have just not found the time to sit down and write my review. I read this book surprisingly fast and found the general pace of the book to be quick. It seems to be a bit of a strange ‘classic’ to me. It certainly has something to say about the society in which the story takes place, but I’m not sure that The Great Gatsby taught me as much about life and people as some of the other classics I have read. Perhaps it’s because I live in a very different world to the one of Jay Gatsby that I find his story hard to relate to? …but I’m not sure that quite covers it.

For me, there is something rather thin about the characterization in this story. Certainly, The Great Gatsby is a much shorter book than, say, Middlemarch or The Pursuit of Love, however, I think Fitzgerald’s story would have done better to be a little longer and spend more time addressing the characters. Take Daisy, for example, I never felt that I really knew or understood Daisy – and she is, arguably, the most important female character in the story. Indeed, as I have said, I found most of the characters in this story extremely hard to understand and, thus, even harder to relate to. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy reading this book,  but not for my usual reasons. Normally if I enjoy a book it has well-drawn characters, strong depictions of the dynamics at play between two people and an insight into society in general. I did not find these things in my reading of The Great Gatsby.

So what was it about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel that I liked? I think, unusually for me, it is the plot which was the main driving force behind my reading of The Great Gatsby. Usually I enjoy the dialogues between two characters, the internal musings of the narration and the way characters respond to one another, but not this time – it was the plot that pushed me on. Fitzgerald’s plot is an intriguing one, I’m not sure what I expected to happen at the end of the book, but I don’t think I would ever have guessed every aspect of the novel’s final chapters.

The Great Gatsby is a strange book for me to review. Exciting neither great love nor great loathing, even I find my own opinions of it rather dull. I read the story in a rather matter-of-fact frame of mind and finished it without feeling any great emotion or shock. The story simply began, padded along and then rolled serenely to a close. As I clapped the covers together, having finished, I didn’t feel any strong emotions, rather just an “oh, so that’s how it ends” reaction. It seems odd to me that a book such as The Great Gatsby should feel more alien to me than, say, a book set hundreds of years ago like Middlemarch or a story about a gender-shifting Duke like Orlando…but it does.

Upon reflection I see that The Great Gatsby is a rather sad and cautionary tale about self-awareness, pipe-dreams and the nature of real affection and friendship. Having said this, though, surely these are themes that I should have been able to engage with and enjoy? Perhaps I have already learnt some of the lessons Fitzgerald teaches? I’m already strong in the conviction that wealth can’t make you happy and I understand the importance of enjoying the daily pleasures of life – not pinning everything on one overarching ‘life-dream’. Who knows what it was that failed to capture my heart?

Would I recommend The Great Gatsby? I think I probably would; but not as a story that’s going to change your life. The Great Gatsby is quite a short story and so can be read quickly and enjoyed for the plot. Were the book a great tome I might be a little more hesitant to recommend it, but as it is it takes very little time and effort to read. Do I think the book deserves a place amongst the classics? That, I’m not so sure of. The novel does provide a glimpse into a certain era of American society and as a snapshot into that time it has some value, but (for me, anyway) The Great Gatsby does not carry the same weight as some of the other books I have reviewed.

I read this book as part of the Back to the Classics Challenge in the category of 20th Century Classic.

So, after that rather lack-lustre review, I must hope for better things to say next time. I move on to The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton.

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10 Comments

Filed under 20th century, Back to the Classics Challenge, Books, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Fiction, Novel

10 responses to “Neither love nor loathing…a review of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

  1. Pingback: Gatsby revisited | Neil's Commonplace Book

  2. Hey Charlie, I just stopped by your blog and I like what I see. 🙂
    Anyway about your response to this book, I’m surprised. I read the book and loved it. I consider it a great tragedy and quite a unique novel. I loved the prose in particular. Well, that’s just my two cents. Looking forward to more reviews!!

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  3. Spot on review. For me, it’s an essential read, but not quite up with the must read classics.

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  4. This is such a layered book…. I reread my copy from high school and thankfully had written tons of notes in the margins about all the symbolism embedded in the text. I’m not going to say that I understand it all… still don’t, but I did get more out of it during this second reading of it (many years later!)

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  5. I read this book in high school for an English class, and almost everyone in the class (around 15 people) disliked it. There just wasn’t much about it to enjoy.

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  6. I had exactly the same emotionally flat reaction to Gatsby, and it’s funny because I love the culture and key figures of that era. There’s a newish novel called The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles that I found to be a more engaging portrait of the time, but I’m having trouble coming up with something else written at the same time as Gatsby.

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    • Hi Naomi, most of the reviews I’ve read have been really positive – so it’s nice to hear from someone who feels the same as me. I can’t say I’ve read many books set in the same period as The Great Gatsby. I’m reading The Age of Innocence at the moment, but that, too, is bit slow going.

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      • I might try A Moveable Feast by Hemingway to get a different sense of the time, albeit in a different setting. I haven’t read that one yet.

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