Just a quick warning that this is likely to be very spoiler-heavy, you have been warned!
The Great Gatsby was published in 1925, but written and set in 1922/3 during the ‘Jazz Age’. It is narrated by Nick Carraway who lives next door to the mansion of the mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby, who hosts many socialite-filled parties and yet seems to know few, if any, of his guests and could call even fewer of them friends. It is later revealed that Gatsby only moved into his mansion because it was sited across the bay from the house of married Daisy Buchanan, the second cousin of Nick Carraway and Gasby’s former love. Tired of waiting for Jay Gatsby to return from the army and earn enough money to support her, Daisy married Nick’s college classmate Tom. Her apparent unhappiness to her unfaithful husband allows Gatsby to believe he can win Daisy back now that he is significantly more wealthy, and so he arranges for Nick to set up a meeting between them. But Daisy is unable to decide between Gasby and Tom and, after he takes the blame for Daisy accidentally running over and killing Tom’s mistress Myrtle, Gatsby is shot and killed by Myrtle’s husband.
I must admit I found all of the characters quite dislikeable, possibly with the exception of Nick Carraway, although he was occasionally a bit selfish in his dalliances with women but came across as the best of the lot (which wouldn’t really be hard). All the other main characters are undoubtedly manipulative, completely selfish and thoroughly infuriating. Despite this, I can’t help feeling sorry for Gatsby at times, and it really is quite a sad story. The idea of Gatsby pining after Daisy for so many years and putting so much forethought and planning into trying to win her back, even down to the location he chooses for his house and his hosting of parties simply in the hope that she might arrive by chance, is a bit heartbreaking really, especially when she (although probably unintentionally) leads him on before ultimately disappointing him. He’s such a lonely and desperate character that you can’t help but pity him, even if you don’t like him. It’s possible that this part of the story could actually be based on Fitzgerald’s own relationship with his future wife Zelda Sayre, who called off their engagement until she was sure Fitzgerald had earned enough money to support her (although they did eventually marry in 1921 after Fitzgerald secured a publishing deal).
The most distressing part though has to be the fact that Nick can’t find anyone willing to attend Gatsby’s funeral. Although so many people were happy to drink his champagne and enjoy lavish parties at his millionaire’s mansion, nobody knew or cared enough about him to want to pay their respects when he died. It’s such a sad outcome, and quite a depressing way to end the book, but it’s so memorable because I think it’s probably quite a common fear. After all, everyone wants to feel like they’ve made some kind of impact or mark on other people’s lives, and that there will be people who care and miss them when they’ve died. Secretly, or maybe not so secretly, I think everyone’s afraid of being forgotten, and the fact that a character who was such a talking point in society, if only because of his persona of mystery, can so easily be discarded from the minds of people who were happy to spend every weekend at his house is really rather chilling.
The Great Gatsby has commonly been lauded as one of the great American novels, and I think it’s probably a well-deserved title because it’s been a week or so since I finished reading it, and yet I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. And if there’s one thing I really love, it’s a thought provoking book. It’s been adapted for film many times, although I’ve never seen a film version and so I’m not really sure how it would work. I get the feeling that this is a book that people feel very particular about, and so any film versions could be a bit controversial and are very much unlikely to please everybody. It has also recently been made into a new film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan, although the release date has been pushed back from this Christmas until summer 2013 so there’s a bit of a wait until we can see if this is the case, but I’ll be very intrigued to see how it turns out. Here’s a sneaky trailer to whet your appetite.