Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Great Gatsby

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past

If the only book that F. Scott Fitzgerald had ever written was The Great Gatsby, he would still be one of America's most famous novelist.  It is undoubtedly his magnum opus and is consistently ranked among the greatest works of American literature.  In many ways it captures a moment in time, and in others it is a mirror reflecting not only its own generation, but that of every generation before and since.

The Plot:

It is the summer of 1922 and our narrator, Nick Carraway, has left his Midwestern hometown for a job in New York City.  He rents a house on Long Island, across the bay from his cousin Daisy Buchanan and her husband, Tom.  It isn't long before he his pulled into their glittering world.  Tom even introduces him to his mistress, Myrtle, and he is at once shocked and intrigued by their lifestyle.  But even more intriguing is his mysterious neighbor, Jay Gatsby.  Gatsby's name is on everyone's lips, and his mansion is the home of some large and boisterous partiesNo one really knows anything about Gatsby himself, but his parties are the place to be for New York society.

One day, Nick is informed that Gatsby and Daisy had a past romantic encounter, but she married Tom while Gatsby was off to war.  Gatsby asks Nick to orchestrate a meeting between himself and Daisy.  Nick agrees, and this meeting would begin a course of events that would ultimately shatter the worlds of each of the characters.

My Review (Caution - Spoilers):

I am probably one of the few people who did not read this book in high school.  Though I was, of course, familiar with the title and it's place in American literature, I knew very little about the plot and point of the book.  But with the recent release of Baz Luhrman's new film adaptation, I figured it was a good time to become fully acquainted with this classic.

While I'm not prepared to call this the greatest work of American literature (it didn't really beat To Kill a Mockingbird in my mind), it certainly deserves it's ranking near the top.  Fitzgerald's writing is simply incredible.  There are so many quotes that jump out and grab you; moments and thoughts that are beautifully captured in words.  Phrases like "Her voice is full of money..." and "So we drove on toward death through the cooling twilight." just make you stop in your tracks.  His words can't just be breezed through.  They have to be savored and mulled over.  Half the beauty of this book is found in the sentences that Fitzgerald created.

The other half is found in the intense symbolism found here.  There is lots of it and no way I can talk about all of it in this one review.  While much of the symbolism continues to speak to our modern world (like the elusiveness of the American Dream), ultimately this story encapsulates the world of the Roaring 20s.  Like Gatsby, much of the world had an almost innocent quality until the early part of 20th century.  After spending the years of World War I fighting, serving, and dying, we wanted to re-claim that innocence.  We partied, drank, and spent money lavishly in order to recapture that carefree and happy lifestyle of years gone by.  But the death and destruction had changed us forever.  No matter how much we loved, drank, or spent there was just no going back.

Ultimately, there is nothing that I can say in this review that hasn't been said before.  If you'd like to see an insightful (and funny) review, check out John Green's.  Though it isn't necessarily a book that you will "connect with" or love, it is a book that must be read.  It certainly deserves it's place among the great works of American literature.

The Movie:

There are two main film versions of this film.  The first is the 1974 adaptation starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow.  I have not seen this version, but I know many people who really like it.  Many also consider it to be the definitive version.

The other is this year's adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, and Tobey Maguire.  This film got a lot of mixed reviews, but I actually liked it.  Was it flashy and over the top?  Sure, but isn't that exactly the kind of world Fitzgerald is describing?  I thought that DiCaprio's portrayal of the beautiful, hopeful Gatsby was wonderful and (like the story) achingly beautiful.  Mulligan also turned in a fantastic performance as the spoiled yet emotionally damaged Daisy.  As far as the modern soundtrack, I though that was a bold decision that helped connect the story with our own time.  If you are a diehard fan of the book, I'm sure you can find all kinds of little things that didn't seem to fit.  But to this first time reader, it brought all of the color, drama, and heartache of the book to life in a very vivid way.  Halfway through I was already dreading the end that I knew was coming.  I think it is definitely worth seeing.         

1 comment:

Hannah said...

I love this book. One of my best friends hates it because most of the characters are so unsympathetic but the book is just so beautifully-written and a fascinating portrayal of its time. I don't rate it as highly as "To Kill a Mockingbird" either but it's still a brilliant novel. And I completely agree with you about the recent movie. The book is better of course but it's still a terrific adaptation.