Review: The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby is commonly read in secondary school, but I missed out, and the upcoming film release was just the inspiration I needed to finally read it.  That, and a husband who read it about a month ago, and really wanted to discuss it.

The story is short, and seemingly straightforward.  Jay Gatsby is a wealthy man known for throwing huge, lavish parties on his Long Island estate.  His next-door neighbor, Nick Carraway, narrates the story and views Gatsby with a sort of detached awe.

I believe that on the first night I went to Gatsby’s house I was one of the few guests who had actually been invited. People were not invited — they went there.  They got into automobiles which bore them out to Long Island, and somehow they ended up at Gatsby’s door. Once there they were introduced by somebody who knew Gatsby, and after that they conducted themselves according to the rules of behavior associated with an amusement park. Sometimes they came and went without having met Gatsby at all, came for the party with a simplicity of heart that was its own ticket of admission. (p. 41)

Nick’s friends, Tom and Daisy Buchanan, are also new to Gatsby’s parties, but not new to wealth, being part of old, established Long Island “aristocracy.”  Gatsby himself maintains an aura of mystery.  No one knows much about his past, and speculation abounds: he’s a bootlegger, he killed a man, he served in the war, he went to Oxford … or perhaps not.  But he’s clearly “new money,” and Daisy and Gatsby have a shared past which becomes a central conflict in the novel.

The Great Gatsby is a tightly written work of only 180 pages.  Fitzgerald quickly immerses the reader in 1920s society, infuses his characters with a certain emotional desperation, and uses them to portray everything he felt was wrong with America during this period, especially greed and the quest for wealth.  None of the characters are particularly likeable, but to a great extent they are simply vessels for Fitzgerald’s message.  And despite being short on both character development and setting, Gatsby still feels complete, with a strong plot and thought-provoking themes.  I’m looking forward to the film to see how these themes are brought to life.

Addendum:  Claire @ Word by Word published a superb review of The Great Gatsby a day after mine.  Read it now! 

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23 thoughts on “Review: The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

  1. What I liked about it was that it didn’t feel old. It felt like it could have been written in the last 20 years. I guess that’s why it’s a classic! It also felt like the plot line to a Dateline Special, the scandal! The movie should be great.

    • Raidergirl, you’re right about that — I could envision a modern adaptation about the greed of the 1980s/90s. I’m looking forward to the movie for sure.

    • Stackwanderer, this is a very popular choice for high schoolers and I really wonder why. I suppose you can get some aspects on the first round but there are also themes better understood with a few more years under your belt.

  2. I know this book has a huge fan club but I’ve read it twice now and each time wondered what was so special about it. I was in my late teens first time so maybe that explained the first reaction but I read it many years later and still thought ???. But if y.iuve given it 4 stars maybe I shd give it another go.

  3. I’ve read this book two or three times over the years and I feel like I’ve got something different out of it every time. Yes, Fitzgerald was criticising the values of 1920s society I agree – but I felt perhaps he was going a little deeper and looking at the human condition and what we are looking for in life. Money and status are still things people seek for, but I don’t think they bring any more happiness than they did in Fitzgerald’s day.

    • Karen, it’s interesting how you were able to get something different out of the book on reach re-read. I like your thoughts on the deeper theme as well, I think you’re spot on!

  4. It’s an interesting book to discuss, regardless of the detached way in which it is written, perhaps a clue to why it is studied in schools, and the lack of significant detail gives free reign to a film-maker, especially the likes of Baz Luhrmann, I expect to see exquisite costumes and lush decor.

    Thanks for linking to my review, it will be interesting to see reaction to the film and great that we made it to reading it before it comes out!

  5. Secondary school was a long time ago. I need to reread Gatsby pronto before the movie comes out. (It looks good.) But one thing I do recall … was that famous line … “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” Who can forget that?!?! Fitzgerald is fab. Love it.

  6. This one has been sitting on my TBR list for quite a while, however I want to read it before the movie release (which I am looking forward too, btw)

  7. I looooved this book. I read it during high school. Allison @ The Book Wheel is actually distantly related to F. Scott Fitz!

    I’m interested in the movie. I’m not sure if I’ll see it in the theater (it’s so expensive to see movies!) but I’ll definitely see it at some point!

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  11. I really liked this book when I read it…though I was surprised. I’ve heard it lauded as an enviable display of the American Dream. I was shocked to realize that it was showing us the depravity of the American Dream, rather than praising it. I wonder if people who think it praises the American Dream have actually read the book? 🙂

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