As I come to the third book on my self-imposed 2013 reading list, I should probably point out that it’s a bit silly of me to title some of these posts as ‘reviews’ when they’re really just my thoughts. I don’t really know how I can review such a classic as The Great Gatsby. I should also point out that I was probably the only English Lit student who hadn’t read this as the film came out, and I felt ashamed of myself.
I read this book in between two trips to the cinema to see the film and I kind of liked it that way. Obviously it would have been more ideal to read the book before watching the film but exams/stress/life got in the way and it took me longer than expected to get started.
Anyway, enough with the chat.
I really enjoyed both the book and the film and thought Baz Luhrmann ultimately did a good job in bringing Fitzgerald’s vision to the screen. The costumes, the music, the parties; I’ve spent the last few weeks in a 1920s haze, dreaming of the day when I can party like I’m at Gatsby’s and throw the phrase ‘old sport’ at the end of every sentence.
The book was surprisingly short, but I enjoyed the way it was direct and to the point. I should establish that I’m not a fan of gratuitous description and here was no waffle, it was just event after event unfolding, to the point of almost climactic frenzy by the end. The character of Gatsby was one reminiscent to me of a Willy Wonka, or even Michael Jackson-esque character: an adult permanently lost in time with a childlike insistence that one can remain in the past and things won’t change (Peter Pan syndrome anyone?) Gatsby is so caught up with the fantasy of his Daisy, that he almost loses sight of who she really is in her own identity. He can’t be content with having her in the present, he has to have her in the past too, and consequently bullies her into admitting that she never loved her husband Tom, when she clearly did. He wants every part of her in every time, and can’t seem to see that this is completely unreasonable.
And then there’s Daisy herself…what an insipid and vacuous character. With both her and Jordan Baker, I was starting to get the feeling that Fitzgerald didn’t like women very much. They are represented as weak, and at the mercy of the men around them, at a time when females throughout New York and across the Western world were beginning to reclaim their sexuality and their identities. In an era of decadence and excess, it seems as if the women themselves are merely portrayed as objects in this light: as something beautiful to look at rather than as active characters in their own right.
I know that the film has had some bad reviews, but I personally thought that it perfectly encapsulated the frivolity and atmosphere of the time. The party scenes especially were extremely effective, jazz music merging into modern club songs to create an effect of partying that viewers today could relate themselves to. My personal favourite on the soundtrack has to be, however, the beautifully haunting ‘Over the Love’ by Florence + The Machine. It’s a pretty epic song, building to a choral crescendo which I feel could have been utilised in a better position in the film. Take a listen:
So clearly this review has become a dual one of both book and film, but I’m ok with that. The film was a pretty faithful adaptation of the book and I even thought it added a little something extra in some places – for example, explaining that Gatsby uses the phrase ‘old sport’ because it was something he heard Dan Cody say, and consequently attached himself to in the hope of building his new life. But clearly, nothing can compare to the book and criticism of film adaptations always occurs when such beloved and classic literature is adapted. There is something so profoundly tragic about Gatsby’s death, eternally waiting for Daisy’s call but never receiving it. The film showed the phone ringing before Gatsby was shot, and his dying believing that it was Daisy when it was, in fact, Nick and I really can’t decide if this ending is any more or less tragic.
You should read Zelda by Nancy Milford. It is a biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife, who suffered from severe mental illness, and was, herself, a great writer. F. Scott Fitzgerald led a life of alcoholism and narcissism, which did not create a great environment for his wife, and certainly could answer some of your questions about his female characters. It is a fascinating read, and makes The Great Gatsby even more relevant and understandable.
That sounds really interesting. I’d love to read some more of his work too, to see if the theme continues. Thank you for the recommendation and for the comment!