This bittersweet novel chronicles the misadventures of Anthony Patch, a rich, Harvard-educated doyen of New York dance halls and fashionable bars during what was later called the Jazz age. Anthony is blessed with good looks, intelligence and wit and stands to inherit a fortune from his crotchety grandfather, a one-time reformer and monomaniac whom old age has not mellowed.
Anthony, to his grandfather's disgust, chooses the life of a dilettante, or maybe it chooses him. Unable and unwilling to hold down any kind of job, his life revolves around drinking, dining and visits to his stockbroker. One day he meets the glorious Gloria Gilbert, a renowned but vacuous beauty, a kindred spirit, who will eventually accompany him on the road to ruin through the years which witnessed World War One and prohibition.
F Scott Fitzgerald writes with great insight and perception on the foibles of the extremely rich in New York society in the early twentieth century, partly because it was the section of society to which he belonged. The dialogue is crisp and crackling, the detail accurate and absorbing and the tone one of detached amusement. He shows an understanding of the futility, and an awareness of the cruelty of everyday life. The characters he creates are neither likeable nor detestable. They are products of their time, their age and their place in society, and are unable to escape those constraints.
I found this book delicious in its wry humour, poignant in its exploration of human frailty and unstinting in its subtle attacks on the so-called great and good. It was thoroughly enjoyable but self-consciously sad.