Cecily's Reviews > The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
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Jun 16, 2013

really liked it
bookshelves: classics, canada-and-usa
Read from August 11 to 19, 2012

I don't know if my appreciation of this should be tempered by the fact I was about three quarters of the way through before I realised I'd read it before (though I think it was many years ago)!

PLOT
It is (mostly) set in Long Island in summer of 1922, amongst the young, idle, amoral rich, playing fast and loose with their own lives and indeed, those of others. All very glamorous, self-centred, and shallow, but the possibility of darker things lurking holds interest and tension.

CHARACTERS
Even if you like celebrity parties, there are no good, pleasant characters; it may start off glamourising such lives, but things are very different by the end. "They were careless people... they smashed up things and creations and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness... and let other people clean up the mess they had made." (This even applies to children: only one is ever mentioned, but is then oddly forgotten, perhaps reflecting the sadness of how irrelevant she is to everyone.)

Nick, the narrator, is the odd one out in that he actually has to work for a living; he is also the most honest and honourable one (or perhaps the least dishonest and dishonourable, though the fact he explicitly mentions his reputation for honesty (more than once) does bring Lady Macbeth to mind). He reconnects with his cousin, Daisy, who is married to Tom, and dips his toe in their social set. Always the outsider, yet somehow inside, and thus surely culpable for things that happen, at least to some extent.

Daisy is perhaps the main character, though more words are written about others. Her name is unlikely to be a coincidence: daisies are robust and wild; they don't need or want hothouse pampering - despite appearances to the contrary.

The host with the most is the mysterious Jay Gatsby, who throws lavish parties for people he barely knows (albeit with an ulterior motive). Like all the main characters, he is a westerner who moved east. Nick (and therefore Fitzgerald) seems to think this is significant, though as a Brit, it is somewhat lost on me.

ARTIFICE
Some people see through the artifice: "She was appalled by West Egg [the village], this unprecedented 'place' that Broadway had begotten upon a Long Island fishing village - appalled by its raw vigour that chafed under the old euphemisms and by the too obtrusive fate that herded its inhabitants along a short-cut from nothing to nothing."

RELEVANCE TODAY
Americans often have strong feelings about this book because of the way it explores (and, initially at least, admires) The American Dream. However, as a modern Brit, with no emotional attachment to the concept, it still feels relevant.

The message is about the power - and danger - of chasing dreams, without giving thought to the wider ramifications. Extravagance and superficiality lose their lustre after a while. Perhaps the "celebrities" who currently fill the pages of glossy magazines such as Hello and OK should take note: there are many similarities.

Or maybe it's about the overwhelming force of love - its costs and consequences - and the pain that hope bestows.

Can you be true to yourself, or one you love, if you are dishonest in other realms?

There are some wonderful descriptions and images:

* One such couple "drifted here and there unrestfully wherever people played polo and were rich together".
* At times, it is almost Wildean, "I drove... to see two old friends whom I scarcely knew at all" and "I like large parties. they're so intimate. At small parties there isn't any privacy."
* "It was the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down, as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again."
* Chat that "was as cool as their white dresses and their impersonal eyes in the absence of all desire".
* "The last sunshine fell with romantic affection upon her glowing face... then the glow faded, each light deserting her with a lingering regret, like children leaving a pleasant street at dusk."
* "Her eyebrows had been plucked and then drawn on again at a more rakish angle, but the efforts of nature toward the restoration of the old alignment gave a blurred air to her face."
* "trousers of a nebulous hue"
* "the moon soaked with wet light his tangled clothes upon the floor"
* "Drowsiness closed down upon some vivid scene with an oblivious embrace... these reveries... were a satisfactory hint of the unreality of reality, a promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy's wing."
* Regarding a college, "dismayed at its ferocious indifference to the drums of his destiny".
* "his eyes leaking isolated and unpunctual tears"


There were also a couple of startlingly awkward phrases, one on the first page. No one is perfect, but given how much Fitzgerald is lauded for the perfection of his writing, they surprised me:

* "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had."
* "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 an informal gesture of farewell."

Also, is "the day... was pouring rain" (not "with rain") common in American English?
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Quotes Cecily Liked

F. Scott Fitzgerald
“And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald
“I couldn’t forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. 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.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby


Reading Progress

01/31 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-50 of 85) (85 new)


Jason We always say it is pouring rain. I've never heard anybody say, "it is pouring with rain" so maybe that is an American vs. British English difference.


message 2: by Cecily (last edited Aug 19, 2012 02:56PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cecily Thanks. I didn't know that until now.

Sometimes we omit "with" ("I don't want to go out in the pouring rain" or even "in pouring rain"), but always "It is pouring with rain". Odd.


Jason It is raining with cats and dogs. :)


Cecily ;-)


message 5: by Caroline (last edited Aug 19, 2012 08:10PM) (new) - added it

Caroline A wonderful review and I enjoyed the quotes. Isn't it frustrating when you realise you have read/seen something before - especially when you are well into the book or programme, and intimations of the ending start to creep up on you? Grrrrrr. I hate that.


Cecily Yes, it can be annoying, though I was actually more annoyed with myself for not realising sooner. I don't mind rereading things, but normally I know that's what I'm doing, so I approach it in a different way.


message 7: by Caroline (new) - added it

Caroline I agree - rereading on purpose is fine. It's an idea I have been introduced to by Goodreads, and I am looking forward to digging into some old favourites - now mostly forgotten, but enjoyed hugely in the past.


Lorraine am not sure how honest nick is. he is narrating, after all....


Cecily I suppose it's relative. I think he's more honest than the others, though he's clearly not an objective narrator, and the fact he explicitly mentions his reputation for honesty (more than once) does bring Lady Macbeth to mind.


Jonathan Great review Cecily. I'm sorry I missed it when it was written. I was at the cinemas the other day watching Les Mis and the trailer for the new film of this was on. I'm not sure what I think. I don't quite think Baz Luhrmann has the subtlety or understanding to nail what this book really is about...but then that doesn't mean it won't be a good movie. And then again there haven't really been any good movies of this made.

Good review again. I need to plan for a re-read of this. It's been a good two years!


message 11: by Kyle (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kyle Your review makes me feel like I should give this book another read. I read it many, many years ago, and I wonder if I would have a different reaction to it now that I'm a bit older.


Cecily At least you remember that you've read it before!

I'm always intrigued by the way some books are utterly different a decade or two later, while others are much the same - and I can't even predict which will be in which category with any reliability.


message 13: by Kim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kim Great review, Cecily. I read this for the first time last year - the first time I'd read any Fitzgerald. I enjoyed the writing much more than I thought I would. I share concern Jonathan's concern about the Baz Luhrmann film. He's a very hit and miss director, I think, and subtlety is not his strong point. However, I'll see the film anyway, if only because some of it was shot in the park where I walk every Sunday morning.

BTW, here in Oz we say "pouring rain" rather than "pouring with rain". I wonder if the expression has its roots in an earlier English idiom which has altered over time.


Gary  the Bookworm "The message is about the power - and danger - of chasing dreams, without giving thought to the consequences."

I loved this line from your excellent review. I live in the town where Fitzgerald lived when he wrote Gatsby. Sadly many Americans continue to ignore his dire warnings about our "exceptionalism" as we bully our way around the globe. As always you've given me plenty to think about.


message 15: by Cecily (last edited Feb 14, 2013 01:38AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cecily Thanks, Gary. Although "exceptionalism" tends to be used only in relation to the US, the Brits were just as guilty in the days of our empire (and we were probably responsible for far more deaths).

What's Fitzgerald's town like? Is it... exceptional in any way?


message 16: by Traveller (last edited Feb 14, 2013 02:59AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Traveller * "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had."
All the people have not not had advantages..

It is indeed an ambiguous sentence, i personally would have said: "Not all the people in the world have had your advantages", unless he literally meant that ALL other people in the world had not had the advantages of those he was adressing.

* "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 an informal gesture of farewell."
I'm not sure what you see wrong with that sentence? In more prosaic terms, he is saying that emptiness endowed the guy's figure with isolation- but i think he is trying to be poetic there.

Also, is "the day... was pouring rain" (not "with rain") common in American English?

..but i love his choice of phrase there! For you to enjoy this kind of thing, one must see things in a more poetic light, dear Cecily..- he seems to enjoy writing with a kind of poetic animism - "Emptiness" can stream through windows and can endow something with qualities. "A day" can pour out rain. I love it love it!

Hmm, and i REALLY need to re-read this myself. All i remember, or almost all i remember is that i'd loved it -but that was long ago, as a teenager...


message 17: by Cecily (last edited Feb 14, 2013 01:45AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cecily Yes, the rain one is poetic - when you get it, but it's also a bit indigestible (mainly the bit I put in bold). On first encounter, I had to reread it to get the gist, which is always annoying. Had I been reading poetry, with line breaks etc, I doubt I'd have stumbled.

Anyway, despite the three quirks I pointed out, I gave it 4* and quoted 11 wonderful phrases. :)


message 18: by Traveller (last edited Feb 14, 2013 02:54AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Traveller Cecily wrote: "Anyway, despite the three quirks I pointed out, I gave it 4* and quoted 11 wonderful phrases. :) .."

That's true. ;) And don't mind me too much- i just personally love picturesque prose that's slightly offbeat. I know that not all people might find it equally charming. It's just a quirk of mine.


switterbug (Betsey) Yup--we've all read it before--in high school. But it isn't until later, when reading it on my own, that I really appreciated it. Great review.


Cecily Maybe all Americans read it in high school, but I don't think that's true in the rest of the English-speaking world (I don't recall anyone reading it at my school). ;)

It is odd though, how some books generate a very different reaction a decade or two later, while others seem unchanged.


Emily I'm sure the difference is that most American high schools have an American Literature year where we read Hawthorne, Melville, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dickinson, etc. I learned to hate Edith Wharton in high school, and I don't know if I'll ever recover from it.


Cecily I expect so. My curriculum was equally nationalistic (though when you go back a few hundred years, it's more excusable, as there wasn't much else).


Gary  the Bookworm Gary wrote: ""The message is about the power - and danger - of chasing dreams, without giving thought to the consequences."

I loved this line from your excellent review. I live in the town where Fitzgerald liv..."

Not exceptional in any way. It's morphed into a typical Long Island bedroom community. The super rich moved on decades ago and all the big estates have been lost.


Steve This is another great review, Cecily, despite your ignorance of a certain idiomatic phrase in American English. ;-)

It surprises me a little that you'd forgotten having read this before. But then I did that once with an Agatha Christie. And to think I was patting myself on the back for figuring out the mystery, too.


Cecily It surprised, nay shocked, me too, Steve!
(In my defence, I think it was more than 20 years ago.)


Elizabeth Sam wrote: "Her name is unlikely to be a coincidence: daisies are robust and wild; they don't need or want hothouse pampering - despite appearances to the contrary.

Excellent!"


Yes! I liked this observation as well. Well-done, Cecily.


message 27: by Lynne (last edited May 16, 2013 12:51AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lynne King Cecily, this is indeed a great and skillfully written review. I particularly liked the section on "Artifice".

I would love to be a "modern Brit" but I would describe myself as a "very old-fashioned Brit"...

I admired Scott Fitzgerald's works but my favourite has to be "Tender is the Night" as that is the only one that I went and revisited several years ago. So much of SF's work was based on his wife Zelda. Ah the "infamous" Zelda and unfortunately the "root of all evil". She was his muse and also Eve and I think it's a pity he couldn't have married Sheila Graham. She entered his arena too late unfortunately.


message 28: by Cecily (last edited May 16, 2013 01:10AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cecily Thanks, Lynne.

Re: Lynne wrote: "...I would love to be a "modern Brit" but I would describe myself as a "very old-fashioned Brit"..."

I meant modern in comparison with Fitzgerald!
(If describing myself in more absolute terms, I'd be somewhere in between.)

I haven't read much about the Fitzgeralds, though know a little of Zelda. I don't read biographies as often as might be useful.

On a related note, have you seen Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris"? Lots fact/fiction melding re the Fitzgeralds and their circle.


message 29: by Lynne (last edited May 16, 2013 01:17AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lynne King No, Cecily, I haven't seen Woody Allen's film but I must. It's been highly recommended to me.

Thank you again for your review.


Eleni Thanks for the review.... with all the buzz over the now-playing movie version, I had only this vague notion of how much I had disliked this book when I had read it so many years ago despite it being so revered as a great American classic - in a way, for me, perhaps it is too American? Your review reminded me of the elements in the book that had caused that reaction... You are spot on in your delineation of the characters....


Cecily Thanks. I haven't seen the film yet, and the reviews don't make me eager to pay money to see it on the big screen, so I'll probably wait until it's on TV.


Eleni I have a friend who used it as an excuse to get dolled up in 1920s gear with at least 10 others to go and watch it on opening night.... they had a lot of fun with the added bonus of dress up and dinner before the show, and she did think the movie was very good....but I will probably get it out of the library to watch on DVD


message 33: by [deleted user] (new)

I appreciate a British perspective on a book that many Americans imagine to be an exclusively American dream, but I am glad you saw the universality.


Lynne King Steve, I've added "universality" to my "active" vocabulary. I always used "all embracing" but this is far superior.


message 35: by [deleted user] (new)

Lynne wrote: "Steve, I've added "universality" to my "active" vocabulary. I always used "all embracing" but this is far superior."

Hi Lynne. Well perhaps you gain economy but sacrifice a nurturing connotation. I'll try yours out for a while. :)


Warwick Yes, I had similar feelings to you that it felt a very ‘American’ book which as a Brit I couldn't totally access…which is unusual.


Cecily Warwick wrote: "Yes, I had similar feelings to you that it felt a very ‘American’ book which as a Brit I couldn't totally access…which is unusual."

That's interesting, because it didn't feel especially American to me (I know it mentions Wall Street and NY etc, but I'm talking about atmosphere and style). In fact I see similarities with Waugh's "Vile Bodies".

Maybe I took it too much at face value though, because the whole American Dream angle wasn't as obvious to me as it is to most readers.


message 38: by Ruth (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ruth Jason wrote: "We always say it is pouring rain. I've never heard anybody say, "it is pouring with rain" so maybe that is an American vs. British English difference."

I'm American and was an ESL (English as a Second Language)teacher. I remember the first time I heard 'pouring with rain'. I corrected the student figuring it was a translation error from his own native language.


Cecily All the best teachers continue to learn, as they teach, Ruth.


Jodie Fantastic review! I guess I'll continue reading. The first chapter was a bit boring.


Cecily Well, it's a slow-burner, so if you prefer more action-packed, plot-driven stories, this may not be for you, but I'd try another chapter or two before deciding.


Caryn Hi Cecily! Just saw the Bazza film last week and it prompted me to finally read the book. What a beautiful little gem. Just wanted to add to your discussion:

Cecily wrote: "...Like all the main characters, he is a westerner who moved east. Nick (and therefore Fitzgerald) seems to think this is significant, though as a Brit, it is somewhat lost on me. "

I think the significance is that they are ALL posers in some ways. We Yanks don't have a Royal family, caste-system or solid history of institutionalized stratification, yet to stratify one's society is human nature. The significance of being "old money" vs. "New money" also extends to being from the East or from the West or Middle West. The East, true Nickerbockers, (New Yorkers) or New Englanders, (Boston Brahmans) being the oldest money and therefore 'better' or higher on the social totem pole that those from 'out west', (including Chicago) who could ONLY have made their fortunes in the past few generations. My husband's family were Dutch settlers who came to New Amsterdam, (before it was New York) in 1642, so they were FAIRLY old money! East-Coasters also have had a sense that THEY are the seat of culture, whereas the Mid-West are still lagging behind in that sense. I think that sentiment would have been more pronounced in the 20's than now, but it is still around today.

Similarly, Tom looks down his nose, really slams Gatsby for being a bottlegger, yet he, (well, they all) drink alcohol like fish, and don't see the hypocrisy of that.


Caryn Oh ,(sorry, but to add) A big theme in the novel and in "The American Dream" is the concept of self-reinvention. Out West you can reinvent yourself. This is not copacetic to the established Old Moneyed Easterners, because it belies your true "blood-line" heritage and therefore worth.

Gatsby obviously reinvents himself, but I think Fitzgerald is kind of saying, They are ALL suspect in this.


Caryn Last one! I love your analogy of Daisy to the actual flower, hardy yet seemingly delicate. Great catch!

Daisy is unimpressed with Gatsby's party - too much, to loud and vulgar for her refined tastes, but Nick recalls her wedding to Tom as the biggest extravaganza that Louisville had ever seen. Another note of hypocrisy? or reinvention? Fitzgerald also compares this to Myrtle's disparaging of her old dress in the drunken-apt. party scene. She is 'putting on airs' albeit crudely to her friends, 'reinventing herself' as someone befitting as the mistress of a rich man.

A LOT of these little details remind me of Chekov.


Cecily Gosh, thanks for all that, Caryn. That was really helpful. I got that there was lots of artifice and hypocrisy, but it makes more sense with all the gaps you've filled for me. Thanks.


message 46: by Henry (last edited Feb 11, 2014 05:04PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Henry Avila Amazing review,Cecily, the film is the 4th version of the book, going back to the silent days.Great to read what people outside the U.S. think of it.Ironically The Great Gatsby, failed when first published, the sad ending was to sad.


Cecily Thanks, Henry. It's usually good to have a different perspective on a classic from an outsider - whether that be from a Brit reading and American classic, or a German reading a British classic. Of course, I heard of Gatsby long, long ago, and I knew it was a popular US novel, but it was only really via GR that I realised quite how significant it is in the US psyche, so I read it with a relatively open mind. Then, wonderful people like Caryn fill in some of the cultural gaps.


Karen "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had."
* "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 an informal gesture of farewell."
Please explain what is wrong with these sentences, as they are not startlingly awkward


message 49: by Cecily (last edited Jul 20, 2014 03:06AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cecily Karen wrote: "Please explain what is wrong with these sentences, as they are not startlingly awkward."

Hi Karen. I meant that I was startled by them, and stumbled. In the second case, had to reread it to work out what it actually said. More specifically:

"just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had."

For me, it was the logic that made me do a double-take. Maybe that construction is more common in the US, but if ALL the people have NOT had something, mightn't that imply that NONE have? The more natural and less ambiguous version is surely, "Not all the people in this world have had..."

"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 an informal gesture of farewell."

With this, it was the dangling modifier in the middle of this rather long sentence that was a little opaque. I have nothing against long sentences: I read and write many of them. I enjoy poetic imagery. But for me, that sentence is clunky and unclear.

YMMV.

:D


Jason "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had."

I agree. That's an awkward sentence.


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