Thursday, June 29, 2017

"The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald (again)

I know I've spent nine whole posts nattering on about this book, delving into all the things I find interesting or odd or cool or confusing.  But I'd like to do one final post to put down a few of my final thoughts on the book as a whole.

Why do I like this book?  I didn't like it the first time I read it.  I admired it the second time.  But this time through, yes, I liked it.  Quite a lot, really.  Which is odd, because I don't really want to be friends with any of the characters, and that's what usually makes me like or love a book.  That's probably what keeps me from quite loving it. 

I realized while reading this that I am drawn to a specific sort of tragedy.  I only truly like tragedies that feel inevitable to me.  That don't give me a sense of, "Oh, if only the main character weren't being so stupid, this wouldn't have happened."  This is part of why I love Hamlet, but not King Lear or MacBeth or Othello -- I can't point at Hamlet and say, "If only he hadn't been so stupid, none of this would have happened."  If only King Lear hadn't been so blind to his daughters' true natures.  If only MacBeth hadn't been so power-hungry.  If only Othello hadn't been so insecure.  But, like with Hamlet, I don't think I can point at Gatsby and say, "If only he hadn't been so stupid."  Sure, he dreamed a dream that couldn't come true.  Sure, he was into some illegal stuff.  But the events in this are like an inevitable catastrophe, a natural disaster we can't stop, we just have to watch.

I'm not sure if I explained that well or not -- it's something I'm still turning over in my mind.

I also realized that I want to rescue Gatsby.  I want to just hop into this book and grab Jay Gatsby by one arm, Nick Carraway by the other, and say, "Boys, let's go to California for a few weeks and let things here just cool down and blow away for a while."  (I have a similar wish to whisk Hamlet away back to Wittenberg at the beginning of the play.)  So, in that sense, I do want to be a part of the story.  And I do wish I could prevent the tragedy.  

The writing in this book still astonishes me with its vibrant, gauzy beauty.  Fitzgerald is amazing.

Somebody asked me why I think this book is worth reading.  Such a good question.  All kinds of bad stuff happens in this, from lying to adultery to manslaughter to murder.  There's some bad language.  Why read it? 

To me, it's worth reading because it is a very poignant meditation on what it means to lose a dream.  We all have dreams.  We all have illusions.  And I think this book shows how important it is for us to recognize what is real and what can never be real.  If we get so wrapped up in how we imagine life should be or could be, we run the risk of jeopardizing the people around us, our own lives even, in pursuit of something that isn't even real.  

And yet, the message of this book isn't "Stop dreaming."  Not at all.  I think the message is that we need to be careful not to mistake our dreams for reality.  That we need to be able to separate fact from fiction, to know what is and isn't possible.  Dream, but be careful as you pursue your dream.  Don't lose sight of what is while you're chasing what might be.

There's all kinds of other stuff going on in this, about class disparity and rich versus poor and East versus West, but I went into that a lot in the read-along and don't feel like repeating it. 

I've already listed off dozens of favorite lines during the read-along, so today I'll skip posting favorite lines.  I have many of them, so very many.

If This Was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for alcohol use, a traumatic death, implied sexual activity, extramarital affairs, and some language.

This is my tenth book read and reviewed for my second go-round with the Classics Club.


  1. I understand liking a book for the writing not loving the characters or not many of the characters. I've done that before (George Eliot novels) but rarely. But not this book. I'm sorry if I was so negative. That is just how I feel about this (and I find it easier to say why I dislike things than to describe why I like things which is frustrating as I lapse into dithering ditsy-ness over things I like). I tried it once, disliked it, tried it again, despised it. I do like the read along forum; it certainly pushed me to think about things. We can't just read what we like always, and its fun to discuss books (hard to discuss boring ones) whether we like them or not.

    1. Livia, I'm glad you understand that -- some people are like, "How can you like Hemingway? His stories are awful!" and I'm all, "But I don't like him for the stories he tells, I like him for the way he tells them."

      Good for you for trying this book again when you disliked it. And thank you for explaining! I had really been thinking, "Why is Livia going to all the trouble of participating in a read-along for a book she doesn't even like?" It's not something I would do, so thank you for this, as I understand a little better now.

      And I agree it's important to not always read things we like. or things that are light and fluffy and fun, or things that are exactly like what we always read. Growing is important!

  2. I absolutely LOVED this read-along! Thank you for hosting, Hamlette, you did a spectacular job :)

  3. Thank you for hosting this read-along! It was great! I just read Fitzgerald's short story "Absolution". According to Corrigan, it's one of the short stories that some consider to be a forerunner to The Great Gatsby. It was a great story, but I'm wondering which character became Gatsby? I think there's more than one choice. Here is my post about it:

    1. Thank you for participating, Dale! I really enjoyed this one.

      I've set Corrigan aside to concentrate on finishing Churchwell because I liked Corrigan's book so much, I bought a copy, but Churchwell's will be due at the library eventually. I haven't read all of "Absolution" yet, actually, but I'll pop over to see what you say about it anyway :-)

  4. I very much like your fine review of Fitzgerald's novel. I have read it several times, appreciating the novel more each time, but I always finished it being quite saddened. Perhaps that says more about me than the novel. Your posting, BTW, has me thinking about reading the novel again, but I will wait until I am in the right frame of mind, prepared to be saddened again.

    1. Thanks, R.T. The ending makes me sad too, with the hollowness of everyone's lives exposed. I have to be in the right mood for it as well.


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