I first read this in high school, but I’ve been meaning to return to it since. I rushed through it quite quickly in order to meet a deadline, and when I picked it up to read this time, over a decade later, I couldn’t remember a thing about it. As a result of this, I wasn’t that impressed the first time through, but there’s so much love for the book out there that I thought it would be a good time to give it another try.
The story is narrated by Nick Carraway, a recent university graduate and veteran of The Great War, who has moved to New York City to work in bonds. He finds himself neighbouring a mansion that hosts exuberant parties every night, and after eventually being invited to attend, he learns the owner is Jay Gatsby – a rich man, shrouded in mystery and rumours, who embodies a slightly twisted version of the American Dream.
Americans, while occasionally willing to be serfs, have always been obstinate about being peasantry.
What follows is a love story of sorts, one that borders on creepy and doesn’t take the easy path. Nick is a level-headed man who doesn’t easily get swept up in the drama around him, and he acts as our ‘Watson’, our window, into lives a bit too complicated to observe properly from within. The story takes place during the Roaring Twenties, the time of jazz and debauchery and extravagance before the Great Depression, which makes for an exciting setting that Fitzgerald masterfully brings to life.
More than anything, it’s the quality of writing that explains this book’s longevity, something that I didn’t really appreciate the first time through. The prose feels effortless, everything is beautifully described, and the characters are well defined. They’re flawed and aren’t always likable, such as in the case of the massive douchebag Tom Buchanan, but they come alive. He doesn’t shy away from whimsy in his writing, but it’s never feels superficially flowery.
As someone turning thirty in under a month, I could have done without this passage:
I was thirty. Before me stretched the portentous, menacing road of a new decade.
[…] Thirty – the promise of a decade of loneliness, a thinning list of single men to know, a thinning brief-case of enthusiasm, thinning hair. But there was Jordan beside me, who, unlike Daisy, was too wise ever to carry well-forgotten dreams from age to age. As we passed over the dark bridge her wan face fell lazily against my coat’s shoulder and the formidable stroke of thirty died away with the reassuring pressure of her hand.
So we drove on toward death through the cooling twilight.
I’m really glad I re-read this. It was the Back to the Classics Challenge that prompted my return to it, and with this I’ve now finished that challenge. I’ll have a wrap-up post for that shortly.
Very much looking forward to Tender Is the Night now.