Sunday, October 04, 2009

Review - The Great Gatsby (book)

I read Great Gatsby back in Junior High and my only real memories were that it was boring and the characters were unloveable/unredeemable.

Finally getting around to re-reading it with more literature behind me, I have a much different take. While still not a favorite read of mine, I found it more entertaining than I remember and I actually came away engaged in the story and the characters.

Reading it this time, I was more distinctly aware of the prohibition era in which these characters were revolving and the extent to which that directed some of their actions. The drinking/partying took on a new aspect. It also gave me a greater perception into Gatsby's character and his relation to society as a whole and the society he was trying to 'break into' (Daisy's).

There was still plenty of superficiality to the characters…but that doesn't mean these characters are flat. On the contrary, I saw a lot more depth this time around than in my early teens. I was very impressed by the way Fitzgerald added so much depth to these characters while at the same time providing them with so little substance.

I enjoyed looking more closely at the interactions between Gatsby and Daisy and the way the various relationships worked. Now that I've actually dated and married, I viewed the relationships in a different light and could better understand the tension, jealousy and hypocritical behavior going on.

I would like to have seen more development of the pseudo-relationship between Nick and Jordan, but I think leaving it vague throughout and then ending it abruptly allows for more in-depth thinking than if Nick and Jordan had happily escaped the tragedy surrounding them.

I seem to remember there being significant discussion about the East/West geography in my Junior High English class…but reading it this time, I just didn't see that as a main motif. Sure, we had "West Egg" and "East Egg" and various New York parties and excursions. But when you get down to it, the East/West thing didn't work…partly because all of the main characters are just transplanted anyway (they all came from the west/midwest) and partly because the culture around them felt contrived anyway rather than some high culture that would be representative of the "true culture" of established Eastern money or whatever.

I had forgotten some of the details of the climax and the ending and so was a little taken off guard when everything unraveled. Parts of the climax scenes felt a little rushed or underdeveloped, but still provided a satisfying turn of events to the story arc, even if the end of the book left me a little unsettled (which is part of the intent, I believe).

My initial rating from my Junior High memories was 2 out of 5 stars. With a more mature perspective on reading and having read a whole lot more and learned a whole lot more, I can give a better rating and say that I can see now why this book is held up as a classic. It's not the action packed thriller or adventure novel that I may have wanted as a young teenager, but it is a thought provoking and engaging narrative exploring class and relationships in a turbulent world.

4 stars

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