2. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Year Published: 1926
Pages: 140
First Sentence: In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
Rating: 2/3 (meh)

I promise that I'm not giving The Great Gatsby a middling rating just to be edgy.

In twenty or so years of reading adult fiction, I'd somehow managed to never read The Great Gatsby before now, and also never had the plot spoiled, either. The book is narrated by a young man named Nick Carraway, who's left his midwestern town to live in New York and sell bonds. Over the course of one heady Jazz Age summer, Nick becomes involved with his wealthy neighbours. There are his cousin Daisy Buchanan and her husband Tom, and then a mysterious figure named Jay Gatsby. Gatsby's in love with Daisy, and over the course of the novel we and Nick discover how the two of them came to know each other, and what eventually happens between them.

This book had a few things working against it.

First and worst of all was my other F. Scott Fitzgerald reading experience with Tender Is the Night, a book I didn't like, that felt like a complete chore to read despite its relatively short length. I am pleased to report that, previous experience notwithstanding, The Great Gatsby is not only readable but easily readable. Having Nick Carraway for a charming, personable narrator with a sense of humour is far preferable to the third person narration of Tender Is the Night. Plus, the prose in The Great Gatsby sparkles in a way that it can't have done in the other book, because I feel like I would've remembered it.

The other point against The Great Gatsby is my high expectations, which rarely bode well. The Great Gatsby has one of the biggest reputations in literature, and so I couldn't avoid getting my hopes up, but I don't know how a book can live up to the reputation this one has. I went in to this expecting to have my socks knocked off and my jaw dropped and neither of those things happened. The book is by no means a bad one, and actually I liked it, but I have no plans to read it again the way I do for several other books on The List.

Finally, I'm just so tired of The List and everything it stands for in terms of 20th century literature and my own reading, and apathy is probably worse than hostility when it comes to a book like this. No list enumerating the greatest published works of an entire century would ever be complete listing only one hundred of those works (even if you only pick one language), but I'm so ready to choose my own reading material again.

What I'm wondering right now is whether The Great Gatsby is going to stick with me or not. Again, I like this book and I think there was good stuff in it. The characters are well-developed and Nick is a likeable narrator. The themes of ambition and corruption and shallowness are still important today. But without that gut punch that I look for when calling a book truly great, I just don't think I want to be someone else adding my voice to the superlative praise of this book.

The Great Gatsby isn't bad and it won't take you long to read it. But you might want to try something less well-known instead.
- - - - -
'Look here, old sport,' he broke out surprisingly, 'what's your opinion of me, anyhow?' 
A little overwhelmed, I began the generalized evasions which that question deserves.
- - - - -

No comments:

Post a Comment