"The Great Gatsby"

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I love this book! I love the writing, I love that Fitzgerald puts paragraphs of meaning into a single sentence, I love the symbolism packed into it from cover to cover and I love the vivid picture this book presents of life in 1920's New York. There's very little about it I don't love.

Jay Gatsby's story is narrated by Nick Carraway who rents a small house and finds himself living next door to Gatsby's mansion, watching the beautiful people come and go at his extravagant Saturday night parties. Across the harbour from Gatsby's house is the home of Tom and Daisy Buchanan; Daisy is a distant cousin to Nick and the former love of Jay Gatsby. Gatsby's only goal in life is to get Daisy back and he uses his budding friendship with Nick to get access to her. That's the basic story line but there is so much more to this book than just the story.

Beyond the love story, we see the shallowness of the monied classes who are swimming in the wealth that had come with a growing, prosperous economy. Money can get them anything they want. It's the answer to every question and it's their refuge when they get into trouble. The Buchanans fit into this group. Fitzgerald says; "They were careless people -Tom and Daisy - they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made...". Wealth without any kind of moral code left them bored, unhappy and with no purpose but their own pleasure; soon there was no pleasure in anything.

Gatsby is not of their class. He is new money, represented by the location of his house in West Egg; the Buchanans are old money, represented by their community of East Egg. He grew up poor but smart and used his wits to amass the wealth he would need if he was to have any chance with Daisy. He didn't care about the legality of his enterprises as long as they got him what he wanted. He's a flawed human being but at least he has some humanity. He loves Daisy, making him the only character who cares about much of anything; I felt sorry for him in spite of all his deficiencies. I felt no sympathy for the rest of them with their beautiful, superficial lives. Beneath the thin veneer, there is nothing.

I had forgotten how short this book is. Fitzgerald packs so much atmosphere into every page that you feel you've not just read the story but lived inside it. It makes such an impact that every time I think about, or read a reference to the 1920's my mind goes to this book. It's been my reference point for that era since I first read it decades ago.

Fitzgerald uses a lot of symbolism which lets him mean a lot more than he's actually saying. (I like it when an authour shows me something and trusts me to understand what it means rather than spelling it out for me because he assumes I can't think for myself. Authours should trust their readers and I think Fitzgerald does.) He uses colour a lot: green to represent hope, grey for waste and emptiness, gold to imply value, and yellow, trying to be gold but always falling just short: Gatsby's expensive yellow car, the yellow dresses of girls at one of his parties, and my favourite, "yellow cocktail music."

I could go on forever. But I won't. I'll stop here with just a few quotes that show how nicely Fitzgerald sets a tone with only a handful of words, like a poet:

"I drove over to East Egg to see two old friends whom I scarcely knew at all."

"A sudden emptiness seemed to flow now from the windows and the great doors, endowing with complete isolation the figure of the host, who stood on the porch, his hand up in a formal gesture of farewell."

"She was incurably dishonest."

He..."bought a mansion where he dispensed starlight to casual moths."

If you're thinking of buying a copy, The Book Depository has a very nice blue and silver hard cover copy for under $12. The pages are edged with silver and it comes with a hard protective sleeve like the one in the picture above. It's nice and compact at about 4" x 7". A great book for a great price; you absolutely must read it!


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