Some of you know that The Great Gatsby is my favorite novel. I read it once a year. Like a sort of pilgrimage.
I won’t say The Great Gatsby is the best novel ever written. I don’t think such a thing exists. Instead, I believe there are a few novels out there that are perfect.
My definition of perfect is the following: a story where a balance has been established. There’s nothing to be taken away, nothing to be added. I’d list a number of such stories, like The Turn of the Screw by Henry James and The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares.
Anyway, in the end it all comes down to personal taste. And culture, and education, and the type of books you enjoy reading, and a bunch of other stuff. Some people might hate The Great Gatsby for the same reasons I love it.
Now, let’s get to the actual review.
Technically, stylistically, The Great Gatsby is a wonderful novel. The story flows effortlessly, even though I have to admit that at times the prose is a bit pretentious. Some might view this as a flaw, or just Fitzgerald trying to show us he’s smarter, but I believe that he just wanted to write the best story he was capable of writing.
If you’ve read Fitzgerald’s short stories, you might get the feeling that they’re a bit superficial. He wrote them for money, so it’s understandable that they’re just nice. That’s why I think Fitzgerald employed a different style in his longer works, trying to separate what he did just for money from what he wrote in an attempt to achieve a sort of literary immortality.
In a way, The Great Gatsby is to Fitzgerald what Ulysses is to Joyce. Both writers set out to write their magnum opus. And they both were aware of this.
The writing impacts the way we perceive a scene. In my opinion, the best example of this is the scene where Nick first sees Gatsby in front of his mansion.
But what I like most about this novel is its main character, Jay Gatsby. And to understand why I like him so much, I have to tell you a bit about my country’s history.
As a modern capitalist state Romania is just as young as I am. There are no great financial dynasties here. Basically, we only have rags to riches. Also, there’s this opinion that most of the rich folks in Romania acquired their wealth through shoddy business practices.
This theme is far from universal, but it just happened to accurately depict the world I was born into.
Furthermore, I’ve always had this bizarre obsession with The Count of Monte Cristo. The idea of acquiring great wealth with the clear goal of obtaining revenge. Because that’s what Gatsby wants. Of course, he doesn’t want to kill anyone, there’s nothing great or good about his desire for Daisy to love him, but he still wants revenge.
He want to show everyone what he’s capable of. That’s a very strong motivation.
In a way, I get this feeling that Gatsby did what he did not so much for love, but simply to prove himself he could do it.
I’ve always believed that you can’t get fabulously rich unless you view money making as a game. It’s more about the way people perceive you than it is about the intrinsic value of money.
And we get to another thing I love about this novel. Fitzgerald was one of the few writers who could really write about rich people.
Yeah, you might think it’s easy, but it’s not. You can see the difference between Tom and Gatsby — one born into a wealth, the other self-made. They act and react differently.
Then there’s the mystery. How did Gatsby acquire such great wealth? Who is he? I can imagine a lot of people reading the story just because they want to find out what’s the deal with this Gatsby.
Another great thing about this novel is that it features such a fantastic narrator; he seems more than willing to give up on his own life while the events of the novel take place. You might argue that he’s just omitting events in his life for the sake of telling Gatsby’s story, but the man forgets his own birthday.
Imagine being so caught up in events that had nothing to do with you.
As a conclusion, I’d say that this novel is well worth reading. Maybe just for those brilliant scenes that stick with you for no reason at all, maybe for the fantastic ending, maybe just for a few lines of wonderful prose. You might find something about Gatsby that you love, or maybe something that you hate, but I think that it’s very difficult to be indifferent.
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Do you have a favorite novel? Oh, and why?