Title: The Great Gatsby
Author: F Scott Fitzgerald
Publication date: 1925
Genre: Modernist fiction
Narrator Nick Carraway chronicles the events of one summer in the Roaring Twenties, when his new neighbour, the wealthy and enigmatic Jay Gatsby, declares his passion for the rich, beautiful – and married – Daisy Buchanan.
Where did I get hold of the book?
This was a Christmas present: a tiny ‘Collector’s Library’ edition, featuring the original cover artwork.
- Find the book in a library near you (worldwide).
- Support local independent bookshops by buying the book from Hive (UK).
What did I learn from it?
I learned about the power of the visual image, from two different perspectives.
Firstly, as I was reading the book, I couldn’t shake the mental picture of (initially) Leonardo DiCaprio and (subsequently) Robert Redford. I recently saw the 2013 Baz Luhrmann film of the novel starring DiCaprio, which explains his presence in my head; but, oddly – as I’ve never seen the 1974 Robert Redford version – it was Redford who took over as my reading progressed.
Although I’m someone who generally tries to read the novel before seeing the film, this wasn’t the way it happened with The Great Gatsby. Usually I’ll find that a film version doesn’t match the image I’ve created for myself in my head; but doing it this way round, it was a little surprising to discover just how much the visual interpretation I’d already been exposed to affected my experience of reading the words on the page – and I’m not sure I liked it.
The second way in which I felt the power of visual imagery was, happily, the opposite of the above. Despite having actors’ faces in my head, I couldn’t remember every last detail from the film, so some of it at least was left to my own imagination.
Fitzgerald’s words paint a vibrant picture of the society and landscape he is describing. In particular, I remember reading his narrative about the excessive heat of a summer day, which I became so absorbed in that, when I looked up and saw the sun shining through the window, I was convinced that it was a boiling hot day – even though it was actually bitingly cold in the middle of February.
I’ve been tempted to watch the recent TV adaptation of War and Peace, but have now firmly decided to hold out until I’ve read the novel. My experience of reading The Great Gatsby has reminded me of the joys of interpreting a text for yourself before opening yourself up to someone else’s impression – and I believe this brings a new layer of interest and meaning to any adaptation you do subsequently take on board.
How did it make me see the world differently?
In a similar way to The House of Mirth, this book reminded me of the allure of wealth – and of how, although initially appealing, it is ultimately unsatisfying. The characters who live their lives based on the accumulation of riches are shown to be the emptiest and most dissatisfied; and, while abusing their perceived superiority in the appalling treatment of others, they cannot be said to be happy themselves.
It is not just affluent people who allow themselves to be guided by money. There are people who will never have the level of prosperity of the Buchanans, but who still desire it – for example in the form of a lottery win – as something that will solve all their problems.
I believe this is pernicious thinking. Holding out for some miracle of chance to magically improve your life disempowers you from believing you can take action to create change for yourself. While a serious lack of money does indeed bring genuine problems, it does not follow that having millions in the bank will cure every ill, especially if you’re in the habit of waiting for other people to change your life for you.
Learn to do what you can with what you’ve got, however, and many more things become feasible. It’s not a new message, but it is one that bears repeating.
What changes will I make to my life as a result of it?
As I was reading the descriptions of Gatsby’s parties, with their full-on excesses of alcohol, music, dancing, costumes, jewellery, and conversation both earnest and vapid, I felt thoroughly exhausted. I am an introvert, but I still try to get out and about every now and then, to socialise with people. And while the parties I’ve been to in my life are nowhere near the scale of Gatsby’s, I’ve been reminded of just how draining I still find them.
This novel has reminded me of how much the social round takes out of me, and how much happier I am when I can simply be quiet and still, and recover from a hard week’s work in the peace of my own home. So the next time I am tempted out to a party, even a small one, even if it is with people I’d genuinely like to see, I will ask myself whether this is really the best way of catching up with them – or whether I can do things differently, such as arrange to meet for a quiet coffee instead.
I’ve also decided to dispatch with the comments section on these posts. It’s rare that anyone posts a comment, and keeping an eye open for what might never materialise seems unnecessary. However, if you feel at any point that you would like to comment on a post, I would be happy to see you over on my Facebook page, where I post links whenever I have added a new entry in the Book Diaries – and occasionally other stuff too.
Maybe I’ll see you over there?
A musical interlude
For some reason this song came straight into my head when I was musing on the book. I don’t think it’s about quite the same scenario, but the lyrics are – to me – surprisingly apt, and the melody very much conjures up an image of that lazy, wealthy, hot and lethargic lounging that we see so much of in The Great Gatsby.
It’s the Kinks, and Sunny Afternoon…