I haven’t read The Great Gatsby for 15 years or more.
Last week I saw a preview for the Baz Luhrman movie with Leonardo Dicaprio as Gatsby. It looked extremely sumptious, extravagant and dramatic. I also felt that liberties were being taken with the story!
When I got home I pulled my copy off the shelf and promptly began rereading it.
I first read The Great Gatsby in my teen years for a school assignment. At the time I was disappointed by how slight the book was. Back then I judged a book by its size!
At 15, the romantic angst and longing of Gatsby seemed rather ridiculous. The book was full of un-nice people; the only person I liked was Nick and I couldn’t understand why the book wasn’t about him instead.
However, I duly took on board the stuff about the green light, FSF’s use of the narrator, the eyes of Dr T J Eckleburg and the whole illusion/reality debate, but I didn’t really care – just enough to get a good mark in my assignment!
I can’t remember why I chose to reread The Great Gatsby in my twenties.
Perhaps I was in the middle of one of my Paris love affairs? Or feeling nostalgic for ye old New York? Maybe I watched the old Robert Redford and Mia Farrow movie?
Either way I rediscovered Gatsby, Daisy and Nick and saw them with fresh eyes.
I loved the sparse, finely honed use of language. I loved how FSF evoked the time and place and I appreciated the complexities of his characters far more.
And now…fifteen years later…I was once again struck by the ridiculousness of Gatsby’s desires and dreams and how little Gatsby based them on reality. He was the type who lived very much for the future…he would be happy when rather than now.
“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.”
In January I read The Beautiful and Damned and realised how much it was the forerunner of Gatsby.
FSF saw that making these un-nice people the narrators didn’t work; it was too hard to work up any sympathy for them. But seeing them through someone else’s sympathetic eyes allowed us to view their complexities and foibles more favourably.
“Gatsby…there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life.”
“Daisy took her face in her hands as if feeling its lovely shape.”
“Jordan, who had begun to balance an invisible but absorbing object on the tip of her chin.”
I surprised myself by how much I enjoyed this reread. Compared to the long-winded The Beautiful and Damned, Gatsby was exquisite in its precision. This reading allowed me to see the writer at work – the effort behind the scenes to make The Great Gatsby flow and connect so effortlessly was a delight in craftmenship.
I’m curious now to see what Baz Luhrman can bring to this story!