Sunday 27 March 2011

Review: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Wow. That was unexpected.

I don't know how I got through life up until this point without reading or watching The Great Gatsby, or even knowing the story. Usually with the classics, even without ever personally encountering them, you generally get to know the whole plot via cultural references/magical osmosis. But somehow, that hadn't happened for me with The Great Gatsby. I knew it was set in the roaring '20s and featured lots of parties, plus a bit of love and drama. I knew it featured characters named Jay Gatsby, Nick Carraway and Daisy. But that was all. I decided last year that it was about time that changed - so I tried to read it. Twice. I didn't get further than the first chapter either time.

While it was beautifully written, I just couldn't get into it. The narrator, Nick, seemed like a boring type of fellow, and while he visited his cousin Daisy, her nasty husband Tom and their friend Jordan, and mentioned briefly his neighbour Jay Gatsby, I wondered what the point of it all was. The plot was plodding, the events and characters seemed insignificant and I didn't know who to care about, or if I did at all. I didn't exactly mean to give up on it - I just got distracted by books that excited me so much more. Then, when I picked it up again to keep reading it, I couldn't remember what had happened. It was so dull that it had completely drifted from my mind. So I had to start again. And I got distracted again. And had to start all over again.

This time, I was determined to finish it. It's only 188 pages, after all! And wow, am I glad I did. Because I freaking loved it. Sure, the first couple of chapters are slow - I was impatient for Gatsby to show up - but when he appears, it's well worth the wait. Things finally get going and everything starts to make sense; what seemed so insignificant before is actually revealed to be quite the opposite and when it all clicks into place, it's wonderful. I don't really want to say any more because I don't want to give away the plot for those who, like me, haven't encountered it before. Because it was fantastic to read a book without knowing ANYTHING that was going to happen. I totally didn't expect the story to go in the direction it did, and when it did, I was floored. I already want to reread it - somehow, I don't think I'll find it quite so dull next time!

Rating: 4/5
Talking points (and possible spoilers)
  • The language was just lovely. There were so many sentences that jumped off the page - my faves include, "Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead" and "They were careless people, Tom and Daisy - they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness". Then there was one of the closing paragraphs: "Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter - tomorrow we will run faster, stretchout our arms farther... And one morning -" What a paragraph! So sad, so beautiful.
  • I loved Gatsby's devotion to Daisy and the awe that she inspired in him - especially evident when he was showing off his house. I didn't quite get the shirt scene though, when she's crying over how beautiful Gatsby's clothes are. I understand that she was probably feeling just a tad emotional, but I was confused about why the shirts specifically set her off. Was it because it showed just how far he'd come? Or was she literally crying over how beautiful they were, to show how shallow she was? That seems unlikely. Anyway, I was confused.
  • There were a few racist remarks throughout that made me a bit uncomfortable, but they mostly came from Tom, who wasn't exactly a positive character. The majority of his words and actions were quite disgusting.
  • I now want to hunt down every The Great Gatsby adaptation out there. The Robert Redford/Mia Farrow is a must - I can totally see Mia as Daisy - plus I also just discovered there's a TV version from 2000, starring Toby Stephens, Paul Rudd (!) and, er, Mira Sorvino. I have a sneaking suspicion it will be very bad, but I love Toby Stephens and Paul Rudd. Meanwhile, I'm a bit worried about Baz Luhrmann's upcoming adaptation - I love Baz, but he's filming this very American story in Australia, and in 3D. THREE. DEE. Ugh.
Eye candy
So, despite the many adaptations, I managed to come up with my own cast for this one. Well, almost. The exception was Carey Mulligan, who's playing Daisy in the upcoming film and was also Daisy in my head. What can I say - I adore her:

Baz has cast Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway, and I think he'll be OK, but as soon as I started reading Nick's narration, Ryan Gosling's voice came into my head. It was a nice voice to stay with for 188 pages. And a nice face:

To go with Tobey's Nick, his mate Leonardo Dicaprio has been cast as Gatsby. But he's too bloated for my liking these days. My Gatsby looked more like Armie Hammer, who you might know as the Winklevii from The Social Network:

Jordan to me looked a lot like Leighton Meester. For no other reason than I think she's super-pretty:

As for who I think would be the perfect brutish, masculine Tom? Why, Tom Hardy, of course:

And only one person came to mind when the sexy, sassy, full-of-vitality Myrtle was described:

This NES-style The Great Gatsby game is super-fun:


  1. Don't feel bad. That's one I still need to get around to reading as well. I purposely avoided a lot of the classics pushed by rabid teachers. Not because I wasn't a bookworm and didn't love a good buck, but rather because I preferred to find my own treasures in my own way and on my own time.

    I wound up preferring genre fiction to the stuffy ole classics, but I wouldn't say no to a good book.

  2. Yeah school can really put you off some books - although I once had an English teacher have a go at me for reading too much Austen (and I'd only read two of her books)! He said I needed to add some variety. Crazy!

  3. I agree with all of your picks except Gatsby, I have to say I think that DiCaprio will do a great job and has the sophistication necessary to pull off the role. Otherwise, though, spot on! Especially for Nick and Myrtle! I really can't stand the thought of McGuire playing Nick, all I think of when I think of him is Spiderman.

  4. Thanks! Yes I'm sure Dicaprio will do a great job, he's just not my image of Gatsby on a superficial level ;)

  5. I am doing this for my exam which is in a couple of days.
    With the shirts thing, Gatsby sort of gets excited that Daisy is FINALLY in his home as this is why he became rich - to attract her to him. My English teacher said that her crying over the shirts can mean a lot of things but most people think that because Daisy is so emotionless and materialistic, she can only express emotions through material things OR that she is so over come how much Gatsby has turned into Tom with these expensive shirts.

    Hope that helps! :)

    1. Interesting perspective! Thanks for sharing :) Good luck with your exam!

  6. Ha! I totally have tried to read this book TWO times this past year as well, and couldn't quite finish because the first few chapters are sooooo freakingly annoying slow! lol :))

    So glad to know it's worth reading then! I will read it asap then! :)


    1. Thanks! Yes, I feel like as soon as you get to Gatsby it comes to life.