When I was plotting my ‘Spending Sundays with a Classic’ season I have to admit that ‘The Great Gatsby’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald was a book I put on the list because I thought that it was a book I really ought to have read. Which inevitably then made me a little wary, possibly sulky even, about my having to read it. My Mum then buoyed my spirits by saying ‘you’ll love it and its short’ only then when I mentioned at Book Group last Tuesday I had just started it there were some audible groans from around the table. Add to this that I had read his short story collection ‘Tales of the Jazz Age’ for an old book group and thought it boring and you will see I wasn’t filled with high hopes for ‘The Great Gatsby’ but I was wrong, I actually really rather liked it.
As the book opens in the 1920’s we meet Nick Carraway who has settled near New York, in West Egg around Long Island to be precise, where having fought in the war he now wants to settle and learn the business of bonds and is sponsored for his first year by his father. Knowing no one he reacquaints himself with a second cousin Daisy Buchanan and also her husband Tom, three year old barely mentioned or seen daughter, and their dear friend the female golfer Jordan Baker. He also finds himself in the world of ‘old money’. At their first meeting Jordan makes rather a beeline for Nick and lets him in on the secret that Tom has a mistress in an attempt to ingratiate herself and attract his attention (we soon learn this is Myrtle Wilson the wife of a simple garage owner).
Tom also soon introduces himself to his neighbour, in a rather roundabout way involving a library which I desperately wanted, Jay Gatsby who is very much ‘new money’ at one of his fabulous parties. Here he again sees Jordan Baker who yet again “accidentally” hints at something secret and illicit that links Gatsby, who many people find a mystery and believe ‘he killed a man’, and the Buchanan’s. What that is of course I won’t share here in case it should spoil anything for someone new to the novel, what follows though is not only the demystifying of ‘The Great Gatsby’ but a bleak drama rather filled with tragedy which I really, really wasn’t expecting. I think it was the unexpected high drama that made this book rather an enjoyable read; I’m not quite sure what that says about me.
I really enjoyed F. Scott Fitzgerald’s prose in this novel. Lines like ‘she sparkled like an angry diamond’ and its kind really added something to this book, they seemed to capture the people and place in a sentence. I am left wondering whether its because since reading ‘Tales of the Jazz Age’ I have changed as a reader and so has my reading tastes (I love the 20’s and 30’s now but it’s a recent thing) or if this is simply a much better book, maybe a revisit is in order? I loved Jordan Baker who lets slip all these wonderful secrets here there and everywhere and drives like a lunatic not caring because ‘it takes two to make an accident darling’. Actually looking back on it seems the only fully fleshed out character and maybe that’s where the small glitch came. I realised I would never get a hold on Gatsby until the end as really that’s part of the book, I just wish Daisy and Tom and their motives had seemed less superficial, but then that was really all they were about so maybe that was the point.
I found ‘The Great Gatsby’ a really pleasant surprise mainly because it was full of surprises itself which made it so readable. It’s a short book that slowly unravels and you do have to bear with it as a big cast of characters and intricate plot points start to get thrown at you, in the end though its worth a little struggle and confusion as it pays off with a read that will hit you more than you thought it might. 8/10
I’m now intrigued why so many people have visibly frowned when I have mentioned the title and am hoping some of them will share that today. What have you all made of ‘The Great Gatsby’? It’s funny though as actually despite having enjoyed this novel I am not sure I would rush to pick up another book by F. Scott Fitzgerald and I can’t quite put my finger on why not. I do love the titles of ‘Tender is the Night’ and particularly ‘The Beautiful and Damned’ as it sounds so dramatic but I feel a little hesitant. Should I be?
Yes that’s right I have been truly stuck on what to read next. Part of the problem is that fact that The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite was just so good; it’s difficult to decide what can follow that at the moment. I could start on the next Richard and Judy and be early but it didn’t take my fancy and neither did any of the ‘review’ books I have received of late, some of them are going to be stonking reads I just know it, they just didn’t do for now.
One thing I can’t say it that I don’t have choice as I do currently have a TBR pile and TBR boxes of over 600 books to choose from then again this is part of the problem when you have too many books to read you simply don’t know where to start. Farmlanebooks had the wonderful idea of choosing one of the books that I have had on my TBR the longest the only problem with having so many books is that you don’t know which ones have had waiting to be read for eons and eons. So I hatched a plan, as the weather was so nice I knew me and the Non Reader were off out to spend a day in the park with a picnic and hours of fresh air and no plans. So I decided I would look at my new years book resolutions and pick a book out of each resolution to take with me and have a try of the first page of each one.
So I took some classics a Scott Fitzgerald, a Bronte and a James Baldwin. I grabbed a Jodi Piccoult as I have always been a bit sneery about her without actually reading a word she has written (I am not alone I have had that same conversation with three different readers) and We Need To Talk About Kevin as that’s one of my re-read missions for 2009 after I hated it when I first tried to read it a few years ago. None of these – despite the sun, my good mood and my relaxed brain – did the trick and it’s not because I had the dreaded readers block they just weren’t what I wanted.
Now it’s of course typical that when you twig exactly what you do want to read you don’t own it. Two things happened which gave me for the desire for the book I really want to read next but don’t have a copy of. The first was my Gran who told me that it was her next read. The second was the author herself being on television last night at 10pm on ITV, the actress and now also author of memoirs Sheila Hancock. ‘The Two of Us’ is her memoirs as an actress and also living with the death of her husband John Thaw and how she coped and it is said to be marvellous and after seeing her on the telly last night I think she is wonderful. I oddly have the second Just Me but I have to read things in order. It looks like I might have to go shopping… whoops! I know I shouldn’t but I think it would be a wise celebration of my 200th post on this blog, yes 200 posts old today! Come on I think that’s fair? I will only get it if I see it in one of the charity shops… here or in the next two towns.
I did find the book on the way to Sainsburys in the first charity shop I went in and it was the only book I bought (despite seeing a wonderful copy of Madame Pompadour by Nancy Mitford – there is alwys tomorrow) however as I was pottering about I noticed a book I had aimed to take with me to the park yesterday and had forgotten… The Parasites by Daphne Du Maurier, I am already loving it and quite hooked so Sheila will be next on the list to read!
Only six days into the New Year and I am going to have to edit one of my resolutions already. It was that tricky one of not really buying anymore books. I think what I should change it to ‘not buy anymore new books’ or ‘only buy classics from charity shops’. Or maybe a mix of the two, I’ll work it out later? Anyway on my way to Sainsbury’s to stock up on post holiday food and happened to stumble into my two favourite charity shops. By the time I left I had bought five ‘classics’ and all for under £3, now really how could I say no?
Cider With Rosie – Laurie Lee
I didn’t know very much about this when I saw it on the shelf and yet I instantly knew the name. However looking at the blurb it sounded quite interesting. A memoir of life in a Cotswold village in the 1920’s before cars or electricity revealing what life was like in the not so distant past that is also like another world. I can’t wait to read this book.
Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
Another book that I know very little about but have seen so many times on peoples shelves (well we all like a nosey don’t we) and have been recommended is this one. So I decided that with a classics year ahead it was time for me to bite the bullet and read this one. I didn’t realise that it was funny, or is meant to be, what’s always put me off I think is that its labelled as a ‘war novel’ and sometimes you just have a bit too much war.
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Another book that I have always wanted to read but have yet to, I do hope it’s better than ‘Tales of the Jazz Age’ which I didn’t enjoy at all. This is meant to be one of the great, great modern classics. In my head I am going to love this as much as I did Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
I always got this and Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ mixed up and having read one I was delighted to find the other in a very short space of time. The biggest thing that made me want to read this apart from it being ‘groundbreaking’ and set in a mental institution was the ‘tyrannical Big Nurse Ratched’ that character sounds far too promising and fascinating. Plus I haven’t seen the film so have that to look forward to afterwards.
In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
I actually owned this for a while but never read it and as it had a coffee stain and was given to me I gave it to charity. I managed to find a new pristine copy, but may also have to go back for another 70’s edition that Novel Insights wants and we may do this as a Rogue Book Group choice in the future. This caused controversy on its release due to the fact it reconstructed the murder of a farmer and his family in Kansas in 1959 exploring the investigation and everything that happened to those involved. After devouring Kate Summerscale’s ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher’ I though this would be right up my street.