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Beautiful and Tired
on 19 May 2012
To a certain measure, I agree with those who have given this 5 stars: Fitzgerald's writing is beautiful, and he paints a glorious picture of a privileged lifestyle in the early 20th century. Captivated from the first page, I too rushed into a world of splendour and seduction, reminded not a little of some of my own friends who adorn themselves with fur and finery, and luxuriate daily in a Château-du-Godknows as if it were water. The Beautiful and Damned lends us an undeniably brilliant portrayal of the effortlessly affluent.
Yet from his very keen perception of life, of people and relationships, the author also allows to slip in, first by tiny mouse steps and later the great thumping of elephants' feet, a sense of tired and miserable inevitability. Anybody who has seen a relationship burn like a Roman candle has already read this book. Even ignoring the heavy tones of foreshadowing, the final two thirds of are boringly predictable. When you see a couple of hundred pages of ebbing ruin stretching out before you like a vast desert, the only question is, 'Am I really interested in how this comes to pass?'
So what of the critique of the young and wealthy? While Fitzgerald is scathingly critical of virtually every character in the novel, he does not attack affluence so much as the means by which it is obtained. There can be no tragedy in the loss of Anthony, weak and scorned, awaiting unearned millions, nor of Gloria, beautiful and empty, who lacks empathy and humanity. If we are to look for tragedy in the 'human condition', we also come up short, for this is a world not of the human, but of the intellectual trapped in a love affair with money.
In this sense, there is plenty of meat on the bones, but the story itself left me bored and tired. Others might enjoy it, but I would not read it a second time.