The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Posted 29 May, 2013 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 16 Comments

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Title: The Great Gatsby
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Narrator: Jake Gyllenhaal
Published: 1925; Pages: 189
Audio Duration: 4 hours; 52 min
Genre: Fiction/Classic

In Short: Nick Carraway looks back upon his time spent in New York and the colorful characters and events that continue to haunt him.
Why I Read it: I listened to the audio last month in anticipation of the movie (I had hoped to co-read it at the same time but time didn’t permit), and my work book club chose it as our May book so I finally had the excuse to make the time to re-read it.
Thoughts in General: A few weeks ago I asked on twitter what book you’ve read the most–curiously enough The Great Gatsby is now the book I’ve read the most even though I wouldn’t necessarily call it a favorite. The first time I read The Great Gatsby in college I was bored to tears. The second time in graduate school I appreciated the book and Fitzgerald more but I fell in love with his Tender is the Night. The third time was my listen last month and my older and more mature self was finally able to hear the gorgeous language of the book–perhaps because I wasn’t bogged down in analyzing the actual story for class. Next comes my viewing of the movie and finally this past weekend I re-read the book with the plot very fresh on my mind. I was able to read the language I had heard last month and visualize the events thanks to the movie. It really was an extraordinary experience, and while Gatsby still isn’t my favorite I do admire the book.
What to expect while reading Gatsby? Fitzgerald was an author on the edge of Modernism but his writing is anything but terse and cold. In fact I’ve always considered this 189 novel to be a tough read because the poetic writing can be a bit tough to muddle through. I tend to throw around the word “rich” a lot when writing about works of literature, but this one goes beyond rich–it is decadent. Much like the subject matter I suppose. There is symbolism on every page and the visuals Fitzgerald provides his readers with are incredibly vivid. Because of the decadence in the writing every word, every sentence, every passage–hell every punctuation mark can be analyzed and and explained away. Perhaps this is why it has taken me so many reads to really appreciate the book.

While the plot of The Great Gatsby is straight forward, the characters have always eluded me. It’s often argued that Nick isn’t the most reliable of narrators and just when I think I have Jay Gatsby all figured out, the feeling escapes me. To me he is one of the saddest and most tragic characters in literature and I’ve never ended the book feeling anything but sorrow and pity for him. And contempt for the rest of the characters in the novel. Though I’ve often wondered what has become of the rest of the crew after the last page has turned. I am fascinated by Jay Gatsby and am not sure that I’ll ever feel fully satisfied that I understand his character. This keeps me wanting more and more of the book.

Bottom Line: I’ve loaned out my copy a few times and the response has always been that the book is boring. On the surface I absolutely agree. I’m not always willing to do the thinky reading that Gatsby deserves–but I also admit that I’m sometimes a fairly lazy reader. (but shhhh, I don’t want to admit that too loudly). I don’t understand why The Great Gatsby is often hailed as The American Novel, but after four reads I finally feel like I’m thinking of old friends when I think about this book. Sure–friends I’d like to give a swift kick to the shins, but that’s beside the point.

A Note on the Audio: I started listening to the Tom Robbins narration of the book but the characters were so exaggerated and caricaturized that I only made it halfway before I finally quit. I downloaded the Jake Gyllenhaal narration and after the Robbins his narration felt incredibly subdued. I wondered how much of the flat narration was tribute to the wallflower like nature of Nick Carraway, but near the end of the novel Gyllenhaal distinguished his character voices a little more and there was more passion in his narration. While I did not love either narration of The Great Gatsby, I did love hearing Fitzgerald’s prose out loud.
How does the 2013 movie stack up to the book? With the exception of a few little plot details the movie holds up very well to the book. Much of the dialogue and Nick’s running mentalogue (I made that up) are straight from Fitzgerald’s text and while some have qualms about the music selection in the movie to me the songs fit perfectly. The movie feels excessive and showy and shed new light onto my latest reading of the novel. The casting was pitch perfect and I’ll never ever think about Gatsby again without envisioning Leonardo DiCaprio. I’m not a typically fan of his but this movie has almost changed my mind.

Have you read The Great Gatsby? How do you feel about the novel? Have you seen the recent Baz Luhrmann movie production? Thoughts?

16 Responses to “The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald”

  1. This is one of those books that just somehow have never seemed interesting to me. It was optional on many reading lists through the years but I never chose it. Now I almost feel like the hype is just going to lead to disappointment. Maybe I should just watch the movie first?

  2. I’ve read The Great Gatsby either twice or three times (I don’t even know which!) and every single time, everything about the plot, characters, everything eludes me. It’s RIDICULOUS, and it’s not just a reading too fast thing, I’ve read maybe 4 or 5 of his other books and I don’t remember anything about them, other than ‘that was nice… I think?’ He’s just one of those writers who doesn’t stick in my head, I think.

    I have pledged to give The Great Gatsby one more try, anyway, but after that, Fitzgerald and I might be done… (I definitely want to see the film though, I do love Baz Luhrmann!)

  3. I have read this book twice–once in high school and once in college. The only things I really remember about it are old money vs. new money, eyes and the color green. Maybe I’m making those up? I would like to re-read before I watch the movie too! I also should read Tender is the Night :)

  4. Ti

    It’s not remarkable by today’s standards. Not a whole lot going on really, but it’s the kind of book that stays with you and it has characters that you don’t ever forget. I think that’s what makes it a classic. I’ve read it three times now and each time I read it, I “get” it more.

  5. Did you not see the first Gatsby movie with Robert Redford? That’s who I think of as Gatsby. HOWEVER, I can see where Leo would make an excellent choice for the character. My wife is wetting her pants in anticipation of this movie.

    I’ve read the book twice. Once in high school and again in college. HATE IT. It’s not that it’s boring (which it most certainly is), it’s that the characters are terrible. Why do I care about these people? They aren’t really interesting or good people. Just, not a fan. Of ANY of that.

    And the aforementioned Redford movie isn’t very good either, btw.

  6. I was just commenting on Iris’s post about this one. I love it. I’ve re-read it a half dozen times. But I love it because of the experience it gave me the first time I read it. My angsty teen self loved the dark side of the American dream and the “falls” these characters take. And who knows how many more times I’ll read it. :) The film was great in that it teased out more emotion than is readily apparent in the novel. For me, anyway.

  7. I’ve never read this one. I read The Beautiful and the Damned, which was tough but quite good. This has been on my list forever. Maybe sometime later this year.

    Don’t think I could read a book four times! That’s great and I can see how by now you finally just get it. Maybe that is what some books needs, extensive re-reading :)

  8. I love Fitzgerald. I read this in high school and then again a few years later… but I’m in my mid-30’s now. It’s probably time for another read! :)

  9. I thought the story was ok, but the writing was really nice, my thoughts are pretty much the same as yours. I did assume it would be better so maybe I had high expectations, but the drama seemed quite average. I haven’t seen the film but want to. In regards to the music it doesn’t sound like it fits exactly, but I ‘get’ what they were trying to do with it.

  10. Oooh, ooh — Gatsby! I could talk about Gatsby all day. It’s also the book I’ve read the most — four times — and, actually, is the only book I can ever recall re-reading. I saw the film and LOVED it; Leo was just awesome and wholly Gatsby. The music was haunting. I re-read the book again just after seeing the movie a few weeks back and appreciated it in a whole new way.

    I can definitely appreciate that it’s not necessarily a favorite of yours, but that it keeps you guessing and returning! Gatsby is definitely an enigma, and I think that’s why his character haunts me. I finish each reading feeling incredibly sorry for him, though he probably wouldn’t want that.

  11. I don’t know if I love this book but I am fond of it because it’s familiar. I feel like I know the characters but prefer them in small doses. I haven’t read everything by Fitzgerald but my favorite so far is Tender is the Night. I also felt the new Gatsby movie was over-the-top. Seriously, I wanted to leave after that apartment scene that reminded me of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. I do prefer the Robert Redford version – easy, breezy, wistful, romantic.

  12. I re-read this a few weeks ago for the first time in about 15 years, and I really loved it.

    I was debating getting the Jake Gyllenhaal narration, but if it’s not amazing, I think I’ll pass and save my credit for something a little better.