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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

First book review : The Great Gatsby

Let me begin by saying that The Great Gatsby is an excellent novel, a relatively short one (some might be relieved to hear that), and well worth your time and money. 

As a rule, narratives concerning glitz and glamour and the woes of the rich-and-bored elicit little interest on my part. Gatsby is a tale that encompasses almost entirely that; yet, narrated from the point of view of an innocent by-stander of lesser means, it goes on to express the amazement, and amusement, of the same at the pointless pomp that he witnesses around him.

After his exploits in the Great War (which he describes as "the delayed Teutonic migration"), Nick Carraway, hailing from a Middle-Western city of America, decides to try his luck in the East, moves to the West Egg of the Long Island region. He takes up a modest house, which has the privilege to be situated on the right of a collosal affair belonging to a man named Gatsby. Nick's cousin, the lovely and curious Daisy, and her husband, Tom (who was "one of those men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterwards savours of anticlimax"), lives on the East Egg, the more fashionable of the two fragments of the island. Tom lives to boast the huge facade of his dwelling to anyone unfortunate enough to be invited. There, Nick encounters a woman by the name of Jordan Baker, a proffessional golfer, and of course, quite rich. She is of such 'feminine' disposition that, the moment Nick expresses his fondness for her, the reader knows it is not one to last, it is just another of those countless small-romances strewn along the road of so many beautiful girls who are loved by so many capable men. They meet again at one of the numerous parties so generously hosted by Mr. Gatsby. And it is the nature and occupants of these parties around which a major part of the story revolves.

The parties are frequented by the "shrill, languid, handsome, and horrible" - most of whom aren't even invited! Later, these very people are to be found nowhere in sight at the funeral of the man whose hospitality they trespassed on these evenings. Just goes to show you the despicability of jealous countenances. These people are the mothers of gossip and show-off, they feed off rumour. They are coquettish to the last degree, snobbish and ignorant, bereft of manners they teach you as schoolchildren. They are ever complaining and competing - 
   'The wives were sympathizing with each other in slightly raised voices. 
   “Whenever he sees I’m having a good time he wants to go home.” 
   “Never heard anything so selfish in my life.” 
   “We’re always the first ones to leave.” 
   “So are we.” '
Most of their gossip involves the host himself - who he is, what tremendous things he might have done, and so on. And that is indeed the question. Who is Jay Gatsby? What does he do? Why does he throw lavish parties every other night, and yet, is hardly seen actively participating in any of them? What is his interest in Nick? What does he want with Miss Baker? How does he know about Nick's cousin Daisy? 

This is where Fitzgerald's narrating style comes into play. The story is told chronologically; but at times, it travels back to the hazy shades of the past, clearing and intensifying the mystery about the man in question at the same time. To achieve this, the author employs similes, metaphors, and personifications galore; his descriptions of mood and situations are reminiscent of Remarque. The story itself might not be unique - charm, love (forgotten and resuscitated), betrayal, self-conciousness, a few simple truths (like the inability of a man to accept his wife's involvement with another man, when he himself is far from faithful), death, revenge, and of course, irony - but the manner in which it is conveyed certainly makes it nothing short of a classic. In the end, though, Fitzgerald draws one rueful conclusion from it all, that for most people, it all comes down to one miserable object - money.

The back-cover of the book describes it as a "devastating exposé of the Jazz age". It is not so much of an exposé as it is an amused observation, as to what on earth may be the point in slighting off another for wearing a gown costing a penny more than one's own. What makes this book respectable is the competence of the author to arouse this observation without any kind of cynicism or abuse. Slander hardly does ever work, and those skilled at letters find it quite beneath themselves to resort to it. Which is why, they might find this tale intriguing that will depict to them the utter inconsequentiality with which their words operate. By 'they', I mean those who complain too loudly that they don't have nail-polish of the same colour to go with their dress. But then, it has been over eight decades since Gatsby was published, and, well...

"There's nothing surer
The rich get richer, and the poor get - children
In the meantime
In between time -
Ain't we got fun"

1 comment:

Vaishnavi said...

I have heard it said that The Great Gatsby holds true in every decade. I have never read this book but your lovely review makes me look forward to it very much!