When was the last time you sat in a public place, like a train station, bus stop or cafe and passed the time waiting for someone or just enjoying the ambience, by people watching and playing the game “Guess-What they do?”, we humans are a naturally inquisitive bunch. While most people leave the guessing to their imagination, some people take the game too far, to pique their curiosity and verge on the practice of stalking, by following the subject down the street just to see if they go into an accountant’s office, or a car repair workshop. In the literary world there are numerous examples of people with mysterious or non-existent backgrounds for one reason or another, some are prime examples of bad writing whereby the characters haven’t been flushed out fully or it is a plot device; in this months book it forms an integral part of the story. The book in question is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s – “The Great Gatsby”.
The Great Gatsby tells the story of Nick Carroway a bond salesman in 1920’s New York, who lives in Long Island. He discovers by chance, that his neighbour is a flamboyant socialite known for his large opulent house parties that take place every weekend. The host is Mr. Jay Gatsby, who gives off the outward appearance of an enigmatic individual, who has lived a life less ordinary but in reality is a rather reserved, lonesome and mysterious figure. When Nick is suddenly summoned by Gatsby to one of his parties, he meets the hoi polloi of American high society. Most are invited, while there are quite a few who are there just because they’ve followed the crowd. Whilst nobody knows much about the man at the centre; they all have their own opinions and help the rumour mill as to where their host is from or what he did in the past. Nick and Gatsby become friends of sorts as his curiosity as to who the real Gatsby is gets the better of him. Their summer long friendship takes Nick on a heady journey through the sordid and often hedonistic lives of the well to do in America at the beginning of the roaring twenties but, as with most lives led this way, there are casualties and this is where things start to unravel. Can their friendship, Gatsby’s enigmatic persona and the lives of those around him survive the repercussions?
What makes a book a classic, does it have to have made it on to the school curriculum? Does it have to have had a number of screen adaptations? Or is it longevity? It’s hard to tell, if you haven’t seen either of the screen adaptations the most recent starring Leonardo Di Caprio, then that’s good, because you can now read this book and then compare all three.
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was an American writer of five novels, This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and the Damned, The Great Gatsby, Tender is The Night and The Love of the Last Tycoon. He also wrote ten collections of short stories, which included among them The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; published in the collection Tales of the Jazz Age. The Fitzgerald’s had one child a daughter called, very imaginatively Frances Scott Fitzgerald, who went on to become a writer and journalist too. His relationship and life with his wife Zelda mirrored that of the lifestyle of those in the Great Gatsby. It is claimed that Hemingway believed Zelda was forcing Fitzgerald to drink in order to distract him from his writing. As well as that, Fitzgerald’s short 44 years on this earth were regularly overshadowed by financial woes as a result of the couples taste for the good life.
What of the book its self? Well the characters are rather shallow and one dimensional, Nick is a lowly bond trader in the city, who just manages to somehow get enough money to live on Long Island. Gatsby’s house is a large rambling pile with servants; a pool etc, while nothing at all is mentioned about Nick’s home. Is it a three bed cottage? Does he have servants? As for the other notable characters, such as Nick’s cousin, Daisy Buchanan and her husband Tom: they live in a large house with servants on the other side of the bay, directly across from Gatsby’s and Nick’s. The main crux of the story is unfinished business between Daisy and Gatsby. Tom is a typical college footballer, straight out of Ivy League who again does something in the city (What, we’re never really told), but bar that his main pursuit in life is carrying on with a mistress behind Daisy’s back. The only other main character is that of Jordan Baker, a professional female golfer (something of a rarity back then), who has an on-off relationship with Nick. If you can call it that.
If I was to take anything from the book it’s that it could easily have been set in the modern world where we are still, if not even more, fascinated with being the centre of attention and everyone wants to be an over night celebrity. But just like Gatsby, when we do get to be the centre of attention, can you really keep up? As with the spate of recent “Neknominations”, trying to be the next big thing can have tragic consequences. The book is also very short at 165 pages in length, calling it a novella is being generous; I’ve read longer instruction manuals. But this is not surprising as Fitzgerald was more accustomed to short story writing. God help him if he’d had to write a modern day book which average out at 350 pages.
So take my advice, unless it’s on your bucket list avoid this bland little yarn and watch either version of the film adaptations instead.