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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Great Gatsby (1925) by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby in the 2013 movie version by Baz Luhrmann.

Book Review
The Great Gatsby (1925)
 by F. Scott Fitzgerald

    This is a book that I always expected I would read in school, and yet somehow it never happened. I never saw the 1974 film version with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, and I certainly never saw any of the three other filmed versions made before that one.  And then, in early 2013 or whenever I saw a poster for the Baz Luhrmann movie and I was like, "Fuck, I haven't read this book, and I should have read it, and now this ridiculous fucking Baz Luhrmann version is going to be the indelible image that I have of it."   So I was like, "OK, well I won't watch it, and eventually I'll get around to reading it, and then I can go back and watch it."  And then I fucking watched it on HBO or some shit, like DVR-ed it, and then fast forwarded to the point where watching the whole fuck fest took about 30 minutes.
Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby in the 1974 filmed version of F. Scott Fitzgeralds 1925 novel.
     And then I'm reading through the 1920s as part of the 1001 Books Project, and there is no free ebook, and not even the fucking library has a copy in, because they only have a single copy and it is always checked out, of course.  So I fucking buy a used copy on Amazon for a penny and it is literally the most marked up, highlighted version you could possibly ever see.  Like this high school girl inscribed her name on the inside cover, she wrote her last name in black marker on both the top and side of the closed book.  She had a SIX COLOR highlighting scheme, took a dozen notes on each page, and wrote little chapter summaries at the end of the first three chapters.  Unlike many students, she kept it all the way up till the end, and though I would presumably be annoyed at having to read such a marked up copy, I couldn't help but admire the amount of effort this young woman put into reading The Great Gatsby.  So Lyndsey Lafitte, if you are out there, Googling yourself- fucking amazing job, and if you want your copy of The Great Gatsby back, I will gladly send it to you.
Mia Farrow as Daisy Buchanan in the 1974 film version of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
 Mind you, for all the popularity and success of The Great Gatsby it's still only 170 pages soaking wet, more a novella than a novel by the standards of the 1001 Books project.  It's also one of those books where the popular success has transcended and eclipsed the actual text- similar to what is described by the ascent of Jane Austen in The Reception of Jane Austen and Walter Scott by Annika Bautz. In that book, Bautz succicently  describes the fact that in the late 20th/early 21st century, "liking" Jane Austen and her characters is possible without ever reading one of the books, and the knowledge that these fans have of the underlying work and Artist is somewhere between minimal and non-existent.  This is not a bad thing, just a fact, and a testament to the enduring success of Jane Austen and her work.   Passing from an actual work of art into the collective consciousness of an entire society must be one of the highest accomplishments a specific work of art can achieve, and it is fair to say that any art work that does so is worth detailed attention.
Cary Mulligan was terrible as Daisy Buchanan in the 2013 Baz Luhrmann movie version of The Great Gatsby, but it probably wasn't her fault.
    Considering how profoundly unlikeable the characters of The Great Gatsby are, its unarguably transcendent status is all the more impressive.   Fitzgerald constructs his narrative out of the thinnest filaments:  a detached narrator participant interspersed with a third person narrator who steps in when the narrator/participant is unavailable.  It is a neat little trick, and I'm sure that Fitzgerald wasn't the first to do so, but the way he does it in under 200 pages without the reader even being cognizant of it, is a testament to his skill as a novelist and a concrete reason for why this book is so popular.
Alan Ladd played Jay Gatsby

  Another attribute to account for the resonance of The Great Gatsby is his mastery of the "Horatio Alger" rags-to-riches myth.  It is an irony that The Great Gatsby, which is of course a cruel parody of the original idea of the man from nowhere making a fortune, is now better known for that principle than the Horatio Alger stories themselves, which are never read.  The Great Gatsby is both a book that emulates the broad, simple outlines of non-critical booster type literature while savagely critiquing it.  The double success seems to be something common to transcendent works of art that permeate the popular consciousness.

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