Fiction – paperback; Penguin; 176 pages; 1998.
First published in 1925, The Great Gatsby is known the world over as a 20th-century classic and yet I had never read it… until now.
What can I say that hasn’t already been said?
It’s a wonderful romp through the 1920s jazz age, an era where people, having survived the horrors of the First World War, were prepared to have a good time, to let their hair down and experience life.
Here, on Long Island, a mysterious man called Jay Gatsby throws glittering parties where friends and strangers alike congregate on the lawns of his extensive estate to enjoy themselves, drink cocktails, swim in his pool and dance to the music of a fully-fledged orchestra. They also like to debate Gatsby’s origins, gossip about his past and spread the rumour that “he killed a man”.
But Gatsby’s neighbour, the shy but honest Nick Carraway, who narrates the story, is the only person prepared to get to know him in an attempt to discover the truth. In doing so, he unexpectedly becomes his best friend along the way.
When Gatsby confesses his unrequited love for Nick’s married cousin, Daisy Buchanan, a chain of events is set in motion that begins with a clandestine meeting between the pair. Eventually, when Daisy tells her husband that she will leave him for Gatsby, an unexpected tragedy unfolds that has repercussions for all involved…
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It has a brilliant mix of laugh-out-loud comedy, heady romance, intrigue and tragedy. The descriptions of the wild parties “where the lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun” are so wonderfully alive it almost feels like you are there.
Gatsby, with his immaculate suits and reassuring smiles, is intriguing and mysterious enough that you can understand the fascination about him. There’s just a hint of melancholy sadness beneath the surface that makes you forgive his bombastic show of moneyed success as if he was using his guests as much as they were using him. Still, it’s not until the tragic ending that you fully grasp the shallow superficiality of his existence.
There’s a lot going on in this novel, which I am loathe to write about here, simply because it’s been done a hundred-fold before, so let me just say that The Great Gatsby is an entertaining, quick-paced read wholly worthy of its classic status.
‘The Great Gatsby’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald, first published in 1925, is listed in Peter Boxall’s 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, where it is described as an “American literary classic”.