This is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most famous although not most acclaimed novel. It is a sad story set in a shallow time with transparent characters. Not a lot to recommend it.
The story is told through the eyes of Nick Carraway, an ex-World War I soldier who – like Gatsby – is making his way in the nouveau rich world he finds himself in.
Gatsby – not a likeable character, but a sympathetic one – has done slightly better for himself, with his mansion and nightly parties which he overlooks from his balcony. But Gatsby is the ultimate “hollow man”, a made up persona looking to better himself, firstly to escape his lower-class upbringing and James Gatz, and secondly to win the love of Daisy, the debutante whom he loved but lost due to his comparative poverty many years ago.
It is Gatsby’s continued devotion to the vacuous but charming Daisy that drove him to seek wealth, ostensibly through the thriving bootlegging business. Although he would tell you he inherited family money.
Nick watches on as as Gatsby finally re-connects with his long lost love, now Mrs Tom Buchanan and living just across the water from him. Daisy is disgruntled with her brutish and philandering husband, and begins an affair with Gatsby that comes to a head one afternoon when all the players in this drama are invited to lunch at the Buchanans. This is a move even a simpleton could have avoided.
Abusive Tom realizes that his wife is having an affair, and in response, Gatsby challenges her to tell Tom she never loved him. But Daisy, caught up in the whirlwind of reason, her young but alarmingly absent daughter and social expectations cannot, and becomes distressed when asked to. Her fragile emotional state leads to a great tragedy, which is Gatsby’s undoing.
A romantic hero only for his constancy, Gatsby is disappointed by Daisy who elects to stay in her unhappy marriage. She leaves to return to the simpler world of the Mid-West without a word.
Its hard for me to imagine how this story has become so romanticized. The social commentary is the only interesting aspect, although the shallowness of all of the characters becomes tiresome and not even Carraway can rescue the reader from wanting to write off the lot of them.
A necessary read before the Baz Luhrmann version comes out, but I firmly believe that this may be more style than substance. Sparingly written, it will be interesting to see not only how Luhrmann captures the decadence of the twenties, but the emotionally stunted world of the characters.