I have struck through the first book among the ‘classics’ I have set myself to read during this year 2013. Unfortunately, this one was probably the easiest and shortest in the list (which includes “Les Miserables” and “Great Expectations” among others), so I won’t celebrate too much.
Reading a classic often leaves you with a bitter aftertaste, I find, especially if it’s an easy read like this one. You feel like you should value your experience, be submerged by a well-deserved fascination for the ‘oeuvre d’art’ in your hands, confirm why it has been called a classic by so many, and finally come up with a great review you can only hope is 1/10 as good as the book itself. Yet there’s also that lingering feeling that you can list at least three books on the top of your head that have inspired you more than this one and have incited you to write a more eager review. Then you come to question your ability to appreciate, understand and analyze ‘true literature’, and wonder whether your brain is more fit for easier reads that do not require so much in-depth analysis. But well, you decide to fight your intuition and try to come up with a decent enough review for ‘the classic’, although the reviews you have peeked on the internet had so much more to say than what you tried to discover and unravel, on your own, during the time you were invested in it (‘What does this mean?’ ‘Why did the protagonist use this word instead of that?’ ‘This motif is a recurrent one, what is the point of the author by using this?’ and so on).
So here goes.
The first impression I got from ‘The Great Gatsby’ is that it very much resembled another book I had read some time ago, a longer yet much ‘funner’ one than ‘this classic’, “Past Imperfect” by Julian Fellowes, creator of the series ‘Downton Abbey’. Although set in different countries (the US and the UK) and in different times (after WWI in the former and after WWII in the latter), in both books, we see the ‘friend’ of the narrator and the main character of the book, struggle to rise to a certain social status where money and reputation constitute the main foundations, a struggle that is motivated by his love for a woman he cannot ‘get’ with the little he has in his pre-existing situation. While both Gatsby and Damian seem to have reached the holy grail, with wealth beyond the imagination and grasp of the ‘original wealthy class’, with the help of their seemingly natural social skills, like any dream you try too hard to achieve, the mirage disappears once they are at the top.
Is it the fault of the characters? Or do we owe this to the general disillusion that seems to prevail in both times? Throughout the two books, and more so in “The Great Gatsby”, we feel the heavy weight of nonchalance and disenchantment, amidst the lavishness of the period, sip into the characters. Where free reign of morals, ‘freedom‘ from traditional values, and material abundance prevail, the characters seem to have been dipped into this atmosphere, and come out like chocolate-dipped strawberries, and one has to bite into them to really feel the juicy and fruity, yet at the same time a bit sourer taste compared to the chocolate out-layer, revealing their past and their feelings.
Gatsby, after having achieved everything he wanted and thought was needed to be formally included into Daisy’s life, has to wait and hesitate and go through different schemes to actually confront her. Having built his hopes high to finally grasp his long-lost love, he finds himself separated by a mere river and all he can do is watch the green light in her house. And when finally he thinks he has made somewhat of a progress, his life is shattered by an unforeseen accident and he’s the one to take the fall.
His -spoiler alert- death is the most tragic event of all the book, well, obviously because he has died, but mostly because of what he has left, or rather, hasn’t left, behind. He doesn’t leave behind a grieving Daisy, because she has moved on in her life, staying with her husband, whom she has loved at some point in her life, despite Gatsby’s refusal to believe so. He doesn’t leave behind mourning friends, as if the numerous guests in his lavish parties suddenly vanished from the face of the earth. He doesn’t leave a father struck by despair and sadness, but rather a mourning father who is more impressed with what his son has achieved, the status he has risen to, and less with the actual death of his son. He only leaves behind the narrator, Carraway, the only one who lives to tell the story of the ‘Great Gatsby’.
Sure, I could also talk about the recurrent motifs, such as the Doctor’s eyes, the weather, the swimming pool, etc, but I’ll leave to those more capable than I am.
I guess “The Great Gatsby” is considered a classic because it grasps so much of that particular era. And of course, I wouldn’t know, since I wasn’t in the States in the 1920s, but that’s what a classic should do, right? Have contemporaries face their reality and live to tell the future generations of how the world was ‘back then’, solving a little of the mystery of how we have come where we are now.