Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Great Gatsby Review

I feel a little silly reviewing The Great Gatsby. It's one of the great American novels that most people have to read at some point in their lives. I've been really excited for the new Baz Lurhmann version of the movie for a long time now and when I came across two copies in my attic a couple weeks ago (mine and Geoff's, both from high school), I decided to reread it for the first time since 1998.

I don't actually remember reading this book originally although I know the plot well from the original Robert Redford movie. But I did write a term paper on Fitzgerald, so a lot of my notes were in the book for the paper. I don't know if I read it just for that paper or in class but a lot of the notations were really intelligent comments that I think must have come from class discussions and teacher notes (and not just from my brain).

Anyway, it was cool revisiting high school with reading those notes, which gave me a bit more insight into the book than I might have originally had. But, reading the book for fun instead of for school was nice. This time around, I let myself get sucked into the plot and characters without focusing on all the symbolism, etc, even if my 17 year old annotations did give me a deeper view of the story.

To those who don't know, The Great Gatsby takes place in the 1920s in New York, mostly in the city and the fictional Long Island towns of East Egg and West Egg. East Egg was where the old money people lived, while the nouveau riche live in West Egg. Nick Carraway, a WWI veteran and Yale graduate, rents a small house in West Egg for the summer of 1922. He works in New York City, spending his days riding the train back and forth.

In East Egg, his distant cousin Daisy lives with her domineering husband, Tom Buchanan, who went to school with Nick. He spends some time with them, finding Daisy to be delightfully flighty and learning about Tom's affair with Myrtle, the wife of a garage owner who is living a double life with a Manhattan apartment and Tom. Nick also meets Jordan, a professional female golfer who is a friend of Daisy's. 

Nick observes great, glittering parties at the giant mansion next door to his, to which he is eventually invited. There he runs into Jordan and tons of other celebrities and other newly wealthy people. His host, Jay Gatsby, has a bit of a shady background but seems to be a decent guy who befriends Nick. Eventually he tells his story to Nick. He was in love with Daisy before serving in WWI himself but when he was delayed in returning home from Europe, she married Tom. But Gatsby never stopped thinking about her, even buying a home that looked across the harbor from her dock and throwing elaborate parties in the hopes that she would one day find herself there. Nick, of course, becomes the conduit between Gatsby and Daisy, throwing her existence into chaos. Tom is a pretty awful husband but Daisy, despite a flirtation with Gatsby, is hardly capable of throwing her whole life away and leaving him. 

The Great Gatsby is a slim little book but packed with such tension. The summer gets hotter and hotter (as a New Yorker, I so get that) as the flirtation between Daisy and Gatsby heats up. Everything comes to a head one night in New York City, a night that ends in a dramatic tragedy that destroys Gatsby's life. 

If you've never read The Great Gatsby, do yourself a favor and pick it up. Like I said, it's short, but beautifully written. I actually didn't know that six versions of the film had been made, although the most famous is the 1974 one with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. I'm hoping the Baz Lurhmann version will draw people to the book. It's an easy read but there's definitely a reason why it's considered a great American novel. I truly loved rereading it and now I'm intrigued to read some of Fitzgerald's other works, as well as this new fictional novel about his wife, Zelda Fitzgerald, that just came out. 

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble

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