Friday, 25 May 2012

Travellin'Penguin and the Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Penguin books no. 746)

Travellin'Penguin loves this car.
(This is a spoiler free review)
People have talked about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book The Great Gatsby for as long as I have been alive. Strangely enough it was never assigned reading in school and it is one of those very well known American classic books that has eluded me.
As common as the phrase quixotic which made me finally read Don Quixote, I thought it was time to read this book.
I am so happy I did because I really enjoyed it.  Besides the time period of the prosperous 1920’s it is easy to imagine the location of New York, the clothes of this time period which I have always adored and the cars. How I love those cars. Somehow my little Honda Jazz just does not measure up to these elongated beauties of the past.

The Great Gatsby is narrated by Nick Carraway who is not always above board with his accounting of what happened during this time period to these people.  He is Gatsby’s next door neighbour as well as the second cousin of Daisy Buchanan. He tends to pull all the characters together as they implode around him.

Daisy met Jay Gatsby when he was an officer in World War I and had absolutely nothing to his name. She believes he dies in the war and after a period of fitful mourning she goes on to marry Tom Buchanan, a multi millionaire. However she never forgets or stops loving Gatsby and a time comes when they encounter one another again.
By then Tom is involved with the wife of a local service station owner and mechanic, Myrtle Wilson. Tom is quite open about his liaison with Myrtle whom he sees as beneath him but life is one big party and they all know how to do that well. Tom is quite the white supremist and not a likeable fellow at all. 
One of many covers Penguin published
They all aspire to live the great American dream of quick riches, power and the American way. Their lives are shallow, without much meaning and happiness goes from day to day with no long term future outside of their fanciful illusions. 
Gatsby with all of his shady dealings and no true identity that anyone is aware of is now completely obsessed with Daisy and that obsession leads him into a very long downward spiral until the final catastrophe at the end.
It is hard to really discuss this book without throwing up great big spoilers but I found the interweaving of the characters, their false lives and hopes interesting to follow and I saw no other way this novel could possibly end other than the way it did.
It is the secondary characters that have much more depth that keep the story moving along. During my layman’s research into this book I learned from several online sites that Fitzgerald mirrored many of the characters in his own life and as he lived quite a tumultuous life it only stands to reason that would be transferred to this story. One of the characters, Jordan Baker a light romantic interest of Nick’s was actually named for two separate car models of the time.
This book received positive reviews when it first came out however it was not the commercial success of his previous two novels, This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and Damned.

When Fitzgerald died in 1940, only aged 44 years this book was largely forgotten.
According to Wikpedia, Arthur Mizener published The Far Side of Paradise in 1951, a biography of Fitzgerald and Fitzgerald’s reputation was again firmly established as one of the great American authors with the Great Gatsby one of the Great American novels. Its popularity has tended to vary from decade to decade since it was published but it now has been firmly established positively in the world book culture.
This was originally published
as Penguin 746 in 1950

I think Fitzgerald’s style of writing is beautiful. He is descriptive without bogging the reader down and the script flows from one situation to the next. 
the following is an example of Gatsby waiting for a telephone message as he swims in his pool for the first night that summer contemplating the terrible events that happened that day:
"No telephone message arrived, but the butler went without his sleep and waited for it until four o''clock -  until long after there was anyone to give it to if it came. I have an idea that Gatsby himself didn't believe it would come, and perhaps he no longer cared. If that was true he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass. A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air drifted fortuitously about... like that ashen, fantastic figure gliding toward him through the amorphous trees."

 If you would like the second hand copy of this paperback book now I have finished with it email me your details and first in best dressed. Include your mailing address and I am happy to pop it into the mail to you anywhere in the world. Warning: this book has had previous owners and there are many notes written throughout the book that I found quite fun to read as I went along. It is not an original Vintage Penguin but does have a nice cover from Penguin as an ISBN later published book. I am keeping my original Penguin copy of this book.

Some of the myriad of covers from various publishers of this book.
Click on it to enlarge.
Photo taken from The Library Thing


  1. Reading only that excerpt made my heart melt all over again for Scots writing......but I can never forget the man behind the genius. Scot ruthlessly mined his and Zelda's often sordid lives only to turn it into heartbreakingly beautiful prose. After Fitzgerald had finished The Great Gatsby, but before it was published, he was on a train journey with a friend who asked after the work. Apparently he looked out the window wistfully and muttered "It has magic" An understatement

  2. Such an interesting comment. Thank you for sharing it. I have not read any other work of Fitzgerald and I realise I really should. I also think his biography would be fascinating.

  3. I could reread Gatsby once a year and never get tired of it! I plan to revisit Tender is the Night in the not too distant future, too.

  4. This is the first time I have read it and I am sure I would get a great deal more out of it if I read it again. Thanks for your comment. Pam

  5. The last line in this book always makes me cry!


  6. Now I must go back and see what the last line was as I don't remember having only read it the once. Pam ;-)


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