Sunday, 20 February 2011

The Great Gatsby - from blind spot to main attraction

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1926: Charles Scribner’s Sons) A novel set in 1920s Long Island, where the narrator has just moved into a modest house next door to the mysterious, flamboyant host of glamorous parties, Jay Gatsby. Through the narrator’s eyes, we learn more about Gatsby and why he is where he is. And the more we learn, the more tragic a figure he becomes.
This is firmly in the class of book which I felt I should read. I really didn’t know much about it before I picked it up. It’s one of those books that comes up in conversation every now and then, or is referred to on TV, and I just end up blankly smiling and nodding, hoping that no one realises I haven’t got a clue about the reference they’ve just made.
So I picked it up more out of desire to colour in a bit of a blind spot than anything else. After a few pages though, I quickly forgot about the blind spot, and started enjoying it.
It’s a bit of (alright, a lot of) a cliché to say that a book is multi-layered. But I’m not sure how else to say it. So I’m just going to go ahead and commit the cliché. Please try to get past it and believe me when I say...
This book has a lot of layers.
Every time I picked it up, I felt as if something new was happening. There was significance on every page, and I’m certain I didn’t pick up on anywhere near all of the meaning; all of the themes. I’m not saying this is a grand, epic of a book with hidden depth that takes careful reading to unlock. Those books tend to be tiring and taxing to read - this was not. It’s a ruddy good story. It’s fun to read, simply as a tale in its own right. But at the same time, you’re aware as you’re reading it that Fitzgerald is weaving bigger issues into the 192 pages as well.
And that is really an art. I mean, this thing was written in 1926. It’s the best part of 100 years old. It deals with big questions and big emotions. All these things, you would think, would be major barriers to it being an enjoyable read for a man in 2011, skipping through a few pages here and there on the train into work. But none of that gets in the way. If anything, I found myself reading it too quickly. The story kept me glued to the page, fidgeting with the corners until I could turn them over, in a way that I haven’t for a while.
Generally speaking, I’m against reading (or watching) anything more than once. There are millions upon millions of great things to read and watch, and so going over anything twice is simply taking time away from encountering something new. No doubt, masterpieces exist, but do any of them deserve a second look when there’s another masterpiece lurking around the corner. Having said that, there are exceptions. And I think this may be one of them. I think I may actually read this one again. There’s so much packed into these pages that I want to understand better.
So, if I’m going to give this book a second look, I’d certainly recommend that you give it at least a first one (that is, if you haven’t already). Cue the drum roll for the biggest GBR yet...
I know, copping out a little on the 9. If this is a “masterpiece” that I’m deeming worthy of the almost unprecedented step of a second read, why not 10? Well, as I’ve said before, got to leave myself somewhere to go. The day I give a 10 is the day I find a book that makes me need to lie down for a while after I’ve finished it to recover. I’m sure it exists somewhere.
Oh, and for the record, the high GBR score is nothing to do with the fact that this also happens to be my brother-in-law’s all time favourite book. No pandering here. Honest...


Katie H said...

Well that's going to have to go on my shopping list this week- what a great review!

His brother-in-law said...

Good man ..

Steph said...

A) I absolutely love the cover of your copy. So cool!

B) I had to read this in high school and was underwhelmed, probably because, you know...I had to read it and there's a lot to take in. But you make an excellent point about rereading it. Now I want to read it again too!

DevouredShannon said...

This is one of my favorite books ever! I tend to agree with you about not rereading books. I rarely (if ever) do. I have way to many waiting to be read!