I first read The Great Gatsby for high school, much like I am sure everybody did. For years this book has plagued me as the only book I ever had to read as an assignment that I did not (at least on some level) enjoy. For years I thought it was just the “defiant high school book” syndrome – since I had to read it for school I was automatically not going to like it. For the last year I have thought about giving it another go as an adult – see if it was just me at the time of reading. The new movie coming out in December, and a reading with my book group, afforded me the chance to reread this book.
For the record I don’t think that F. Scott Fitzgerald is a bad writer. However, I still didn’t like this book. His characters are wooden and I’m not compelled by any of their motivations in life. I just don’t like this book.
Ostensibly, it’s a book about shifting morals and times in American History. Set in the jazz age in New York this book follows the lives of several different people, mostly through the upper echelons of society. Told from the point of view of Nick Carroway we watch voyeuristically as his life, and his group of friends, are irrevocably changed by the introduction of one man – Gatsby. Gatsby is a man of shadows, a war veteran and a millionaire. How he came to his wealth is, at best, a sketchy detail throughout much of the book and much speculation is made on this part. The moral ambiguities of his past, present, and future are crystallized when he discovers that his long lost love, Daisy Buchanan, is Nick’s first cousin. Daisy is married, to Tom, who is cheating on her with Myrtle Wilson, the wife of a mechanic. Gatsby convinces Nick to arrange a meeting that blossoms into an affair. On some level everyone knows about this and accepts it, until tensions run high and the truth comes out.
Through the hedonistic parties and Nick’s very naive and passive narration we observe the fall of everyone. We see what wealth and power do to corrupt the human condition. It’s very sad, but it’s not… because for much of the book we are listening to these people whinge about having everything they could ever want and this breeds contempt with the reader. I have a hard time dredging up any sympathy for the “noble riche”, as it were. Through manipulation and schemes these people came into their money and never once worried about the moral implications of their choices. How am I supposed to feel anything but repulsion about their motivations… or their achievements?
There are things I did catch on this read that I did not at 18. One thought is this – these 6 central people in this “love triangle” (hexagon?) are basically in an undeclared poly relationship. My impression is that everyone sort of knows whats going on and doesn’t want to admit it until it causes problems. Secondly, Nick’s homosexuality is more apparent on this read. There’s a scene at the end of chapter two where it’s really obviously alluding to a sexual encounter with a man, which makes all of his romantic endeavors with Jordan Baker henceforth a little bittersweet. These are things I don’t necessarily think a high schooler will catch, and I think that’s a shame. There are certain books that we have to read in school, but I think this one should be taught later when things can be talked about and not overlooked, or pointedly ignored for convenience’s sake.
Ordinarily I love moral tales, but this is one I can’t get behind. It’s just not something I enjoyed, either time I read it. But I gave it a chance and I can hold my head up and say that it’s not me… it’s the book. And I’m really happy about that.
2 out of 5 stars.
P.S. And I’m never reading it again. However, I am looking forward to Baz Lurhmann’s upcoming film, because if anyone is going to do it right (or well) it’s him.