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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

[Love: Classics/Historical Fiction/American]

“I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others – young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life.”

At risk of greatly offending my American friends, I feel that the Great Gatsby is another one of those ‘greatest evers’ that don’t actually make the cut here in the UK. Well at least, that’s the impression I get from both myself and my very limited circle of friends that have read it.

The Guardian says:

“The doomed attachment is seen entirely through the eyes of the novel’s narrator, Nick Carraway. He has the lovers performing a drama that he is desperate to enrich with soulfulness. The romance and the final tragedy are the more haunting for being vicariously experienced.” 

This novel is short – only nine chapters. Yet, I’ll confess I had a bit of a hard time getting into it. I’ll also confess that I may have enjoyed watching the 2013 film adaptation more than I enjoyed reading the book. But that’s mainly because I like pretty things and that’s pretty much what the film focused on (shoot me if it doesn’t win the Oscar for costume design, and possibly even production design).

One irritating trait of mature literature sometimes is the absence of lovable characters, which I felt deeply in this novel. As observers of the moral decay that Fitzgerald was depicting, we find the characters despicable at worst and ambiguous at best.

I could, however, sympathise with Nick the narrator. His commentaries on life in the big city hit a nerve sometimes; the way we struggle with the extravagance, vitality and fastness of it all, sort of suspended alone while the rest of the city race through their lives. There’s even a sort of poignancy in his role as the non-omniscient narrator – the outside observer, narrating the dramatic events of someone else’s tale.

The greatness of the Great Gatsby lies in its chronicling of the spirit of America in the 1920s – the unrestrained pursuit of wealth and pleasure at the expense of morality and true meaning; where the conflation of happiness with wealth leads to the corruption of the American dream.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”