Book 50: The Great Gatsby
This review seems pointless.
I think everything that can be said about The Great Gatsby has already been said. So I’m not reinventing the wheel here, not that I ever do during any of my reviews (I use the term “reviews” loosely).
Having read this novel many times, you’d think I could write pages and pages about The Great Gatsby—and I guess that’s what I’ve done over the last few weeks—but, still, trying to sum up the amazingness, fabulousness, splenderificness of this novel in a short review is difficult.
So I’ll start with this:
The 101 Books rankings has a new number one. That’s right. After more than two years in the top spot, and after having read 49 books that were unable to supplant it, To Kill A Mockingbird drops to #2 in my meaningless and highly subjective rankings.
I’m now halfway through with the list, and The Great Gatsby is in the top spot.
But this isn’t a surprise. The Great Gatsby has been my favorite novel for years. This read-through simply confirmed that it still is.
If you’ve avoided Gatsby because it was forced down your throat in high school, revisit it.
If you’ve avoided Gatsby because people like me go on and on and on about how good it is, stop worrying about what I say and just go read it.
And if you think Gatsby is overrated, well, that’s okay—as long as you’ve actually given it a chance—but I can’t disagree more.
You know the story, even if you haven’t read it, right?
Gatsby’s a rich guy who’s basically obsessed with Daisy Buchanan—an ex-girlfriend from his past. After acquiring his wealth through mysterious means, Gatsby buys a massive mansion with a view of Daisy’s dock on the other side of a lake.
He throws elaborate parties and lives this extravagant lifestyle all in the hopes of winning Daisy back. Eventually, she finds her way to his house and the drama really begins.
Nick Carraway, the narrator and Gatsby’s neighbor, is there to witness it all. He’s an excellent unassuming, laid-back character who is a perfect contrast to the over-the-topness of both Gatsby and Daisy.
The story is good, but it’s honestly not a story you haven’t heard before. To me, the beauty of The Great Gatsby is found in 1) Fitzgerald’s prose and 2) the layers and layers and layers of complexity of the novel.
In the realm of simple stories with all kinds of underlying complexity, The Great Gatsby is as good as they come. Every character is rich, and I don’t mean monetarily rich.
Even minor characters that come and go, like the owl-eyed man in Gatsby’s library, serve a purpose. In that case, the owl-eyed man—the “wise” one, if you will—is the only person who’s really on to Gatsby’s double life.
The list of symbols goes on and on: Dr. T.J. Eckleburg’s eyes. The green light on Daisy’s dock. The constant references to color in the book.
And EVERY SINGLE WORD is written with purpose. The book is so short and readable that it’s easy to just skip right past some of this stuff. And that’s okay, if you do. The Great Gatsby can be easily read as just a great story, but Fitzgerald did so much more with it.
And Fitzgerald’s prose, which I’ve already talked about a lot on this blog, is just so buttery delicious that I want to eat every word. Even though our old friend Mike, a frequent commenter on the blog, told me that “buttery prose is boring,” I just couldn’t disagree more.
The counter to Fitzgerald’s buttery prose is something like Virginia Woolf, which—continuing with the food metaphor—might be like chewing on five Aspirin.
“There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams — not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.”
If you’ve ever dated someone and went through that honeymoon period, and then had your first argument where you realize this person is human after all, you might be able to relate to that passage a little bit.
But you multiply those feelings times 10—a feeling where the girl seems unattainable—then you’re probably getting close to what Gatsby was feeling.
I honestly wish this novel was 400 pages, not 200, but maybe that would be too much of a good thing.
As I’ve said, this wasn’t my first time reading The Great Gatsby, and it definitely won’t be my last. I love this book.
Am I off-base here? Am I overrating Gatbsy? Is this review full of ridiculous hyperbole?
The Opening Line: “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.”
The Meaning: Is it a statement on the emptiness of pursuing the “American Dream”? Is it a statement that love, more than money, is the only way to happiness? Is it a statement that people are flawed and, hence, can never live up to our expectations of them? Is it all the above?
Highlights: Every. Single. Word. Is. A. Highlight. And. I. Hate. Writing. Like. This. For. Emphasis. I’ve gone on and on about Fitzgerald’s writing, so I won’t rehash that here. But, in this case, the author makes the story.
Lowlights: There isn’t one. Really. Okay, the story itself isn’t life-changing, but I wouldn’t even call that a negative. It’s a great story, but the writing shines much brighter.
Memorable Line: “No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.”
Final Thoughts: The last few weeks, I’ve written a lot about The Great Gatsby. I really have nothing else to say. It’s my favorite book ever, and it’s going to be hard for any book to top it. Read it.