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The Great Gatsby (Wordsworth Classics)
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 November 2010
East Coast America, 1922, and young Nick Carraway decides to rent a house in the fictional town for the rich, West Egg, while he tries to make it in the city trading bonds. Except his life is about to change as he meets his flamboyant and rich neighbour, Jay Gatsby, whose charisma and lifestyle will spirit Nick away to catch glimpses of how the rich live in 1920s America, the good and the bad. But Gatsby isn't all he seems and when Nick introduces him to his married cousin Daisy and her husband Tom Buchanan, their fatal company will reveal to Nick the sordid and black-hearted side to the American Dream.

What to say about this book that's not been said before? Should there be a superlative limit for this novel? And where should someone start? Well, I read this book several years ago and decided to re-read it recently to see if the novel was as good as I remembered, as clever and well written, as fun and as sad, and with a beating heart still behind it; and I was glad to find that it still did.

Nick Carraway is a brilliant narrator, flawed and biased, yet all-seeing out of all the characters; we see Gatsby as a charming personality at first and then slowly and subtly see the flaws in his character, see through the lies that go into the creation of his persona and the darkness beneath. We see Daisy and Tom as a sad married couple - Daisy full of regret yet unable to leave because of her love of Tom's money and Tom with his numerous infidelities and foul temper showing how the rich can live a life free of consequence.

The book contains many images of startling beauty such as Gatsby's glittering parties wearing his pink tuxedo, the green light from Daisy's window in the night, the decayed ruins of Gatsby's mansion, the decadent empty Buchanan household - and the stench of squandered privilege, crime and death that accompanies it all.

The writing is of the highest quality, each sentence perfectly written and filled with layers making up rich paragraphs and textured pages - it's not hard to see why Fitzgerald is canonised and celebrated when the writing in "Gatsby" is this good. But that's not to say that it's unreadable to people looking for a good read - it's perfectly approachable, understandable, and fun. The scenes are so full of life and action that it's as compelling to read purely for its story of doomed love between Gatsby and Daisy. The scene between Gatsby, Daisy and Tom is as explosive to read the first time as it is to re-read it again and again.

But because the writing is so good, the story so layered and full of symbols with a strong theme and message, it's no wonder this book has had untold numbers of books and papers written about its complexities and nuances - how truly magnificent a work of art it is. I won't go into the various themes and sub-texts as this review will turn into a sprawling mini-book of its own but suffice it to say Fitzgerald explores the theme of how wealth in America means the rich can do what they want to the poor and the law can't touch you if you have cash, with a wry and precise eye that still has relevance nearly a century after it was written.

And why is Gatsby great? Because he is the embodiment of the American Dream - a working class boy who became rich; a self-made man, yet his pursuit of riches and love were all illusions in the end. Riches come and go and love can be fickle and deceitful. In the end, Gatsby represents the poor to Daisy and Tom's rich, and like the poor paying for the sins of the rich, Gatsby too must pay the ultimate price for attempting to join their ranks.

"The Great Gatsby" is a haunting, bitter, and powerful novel of America's elite and their excesses, a damning yet beautiful work of art that captures perfectly an era and a class through wonderfully realised characters in an unforgettable story. A modern tragedy that's of its time but for all time, "The Great Gatsby" continues to enchant readers and earn and re-earn its status as a Great American Novel. If you've never read this masterpiece, let me be the first to introduce you to Mr Jay Gatsby - he'll take it from here.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 20 August 2012
This is one of those books which I'd been aware of for many years but had never got round to reading. It was purely by chance that I came across it in the Kindle shop whilst searching for books by Jack Kerouac. But F. Scott Fitzgerald has a very different writing style to Kerouac and his characters inhabit the opposite end of the social spectrum to Kerouac's bums.

I initially downloaded a sample but on finishing it I immediately bought the full book. I was hooked by the mysterious character of Gatsby who lives in a mansion by the sea in Long Island and throws extravagant parties for the great and the good (or the idle rich) from New York and the surrounding area. Most guests aren't even invited - they just turn up. With the book being set in 1922 it gives a real flavour of what life was like, admittedly for those not short of cash, in pre-depression era America.

The story is told from the perspective of Nick Carraway who rents a small house next to Gatsby and the story revolves around Nick, his cousin Daisy who lives across the bay with her husband Tom, Gatsby and Jordan who is a friend of Daisy's. Without giving too much away, Daisy had been involved with Gatsby before she met Tom but their marriage is on the rocks due to Tom's infidelity. Passions run high and the book ends in tragedy with an unexpected twist or two in the plot.

I found it to be a real page turner and was somewhat disappointed when I then downloaded a sample of another of Fitzgerald's book, Tender Is The Night, to find that the characters weren't nearly as interesting as those of Gatsby and co.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 17 April 2009
I will preface this review by admitting that I have not read much American Literature - The Glass Menagerie, To Kill a Mocking Bird and Catcher in the Rye being the only real "classics" I have read. I am also not so familiar with American culturalisms through the ages. Not that this is particularly relevant to reading The Great Gatsby, but perhaps my lack of contextual background knowledge is the reason why the style and content of the novel did not immediately "click" for me as much as it did others. Having said that, by the time you reach the end of The Great Gatsby and reflect on its contents you will appreciate the clever intricacies of the narrative and the slow build up to a powerful and moving ending.

Anyway, to get to the point:

The Great Gatsby (fantastic irony in the title of the novel, which you will not fully appreciate until you have read the book from cover to cover) is set in the "roaring 20s", a time of great cultural and social growth following the end of WW1. The book is narrated by Nick Carraway, the title character's neighbour. The story follows Nick as he moves to New York and inadvertantly gets caught up in the high society life of Jay Gatsby; a seemingly mysterious and elusive character. It turns out that Gatsby is very much living in the past and is struggling to move on with his life, despite his surrounding luxuries. The various social soirees Gatsby throws are mere facades, as is his whole persona. It is Gatsby's inability to let go that ultimately leads to his tragic downfall. As Nick gets more entwined in the glamourous lifestyle of Gatsby and his contemporaries, the reader and Nick both realise the truth of that age old adage: "all that glitters is not gold".

What is clever about The Great Gatsby is the way it intricately critiques 1920's high society life and explores what happens when people continue to live in the past rather than face up to their present reality. The story unwinds slowly (painfully so at times) but picks up momentum gradually and builds to a dramatic creshendo. Nick is the moral anchor of the novel - from the very start, the reader is introduced to Nick's ideals: He is a man of morals and the chaos that surrounds him throughout the course of the novel does not at times sit well with him. This feeling of unease is portrayed well in the writing and style of the narrative. The plot slowly meanders, with the final few chapters picking up the pace rapidly - the twists and turns are laid to rest in quite a dramatic finale.

Overall The Great Gatsby is stark and short but satisfying and well written, though admittedly very slow moving in parts.
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84 of 94 people found the following review helpful
on 1 May 2013
F. Scott Fitzgerald is credited with inventing the term "The Jazz Age" to describe the 1920s, and he is often regarded as the greatest chronicler of that age in fiction. Today the "Roaring Twenties" are often regarded as a brief, prosperous, carefree and hedonistic interval between the war-torn 1910s and the economically depressed 1930s, the age of jazz, of cocktails, of Art Deco, of flappers and of the Charleston. Like all attempts to summarise a whole decade in a single phrase, or even in a single sentence, however, this one can never be more than a half-truth. The decade was certainly a time of relative prosperity in the United States (less so in Europe), but it was also an era haunted by memories of the Great War and its attendant bloodshed and by a sense of foreboding about the future. The era's much-vaunted hedonism can be seen as the reaction of a largely urban, well-to-do minority against the Puritanism of the not-so-silent majority. This was, after all, the decade of Prohibition and of ultra-conservative forms of religion, exemplified by the notorious Scopes trial in which a schoolteacher was put on trial for teaching evolutionary theory.

Jay Gatsby, the central character of this novel, is a quintessentially Roaring Twenties figure. Originally a North Dakota farmboy named James Gatz, he served with distinction in the United States army during World War I and then went into business, becoming a self-made millionaire, wealthy enough to afford a luxurious mansion where he hosts lavish parties. Gatsby's mansion is on the North Shore of Long Island, an area with so many wealthy residents during this period that it became known as the Gold Coast. The sources of his millions are originally obscure; at times Gatsby claims to be the son of a wealthy San Francisco family, at others he makes vague references to the drugstore business or to oil. Eventually, however, it emerges that he has made his money though bootlegging, and possibly other illegal activities.

The story takes place during the summer of 1922, in New York and on Long Island, and is narrated by Nick Carraway, a trainee bond salesman and a neighbour of Gatsby's in the village of West Egg. (Fictitious, but based on the real Long Island community of Great Neck). The plot revolves around the web of relationships between Nick, Gatsby (who becomes a close friend), Nick's cousin Daisy and her husband Tom Buchanan. The Buchanans live across the bay from West Egg in the neighbouring village of East Egg. Their marriage is an unhappy one, and Tom has taken a mistress, Myrtle Wilson, the wife of an unsuccessful garage proprietor in a run-down area of New York, named by Fitzgerald the "Valley of Ashes". Myrtle and her husband George will play important roles in the novel's denouement.

One of the novel's themes is the American class system. Some Americans would claim that theirs is a classless, or at least a meritocratic, society, but Fitzgerald shows that America also has its forms of class distinction, perhaps more subtle than those that exist in Europe but no less real. Gatsby's lie about coming from an established San Francisco family is only partly inspired by an understandable reticence about the real sources of his wealth; part of the reason is that, in a society which maintains a sharp old-money/new money distinction he has no wish to be regarded as a parvenu. Even so, he makes his home in the "new-money" enclave of West Egg, East Egg being the preserve of traditional "old-money" families like the Buchanans. His modification of his original, German-sounding, surname "Gatz" may have been motivated by wartime anti-German prejudice, but another factor may have been that an Anglo-Saxon surname carried more cachet in high society. He makes use of characteristically upper-class expressions such as "old sport", which annoy the genuinely upper-class Tom Buchanan.

"The Great Gatsby" is a novel of its time in that it analyses 1920s New York high society and in its allusions to the literature and theatrical productions of the period and to contemporary events such as the "Black Sox" scandal of 1919 or the notorious Rosenthal murder case. Fitzgerald makes use of genuine buildings in and around New York, such as Pennsylvania Station or the Plaza Hotel. Automobiles, a relatively modern invention in the twenties, are frequently mentioned, and play a key role in the plot. It is not, however, a celebration of the gay Roaring Twenties; its tone is one of pessimism rather than of hedonism or gaiety. Jay Gatsby is at heart a melancholy figure, who derives little pleasure either from his wealth or from the extravagant parties he throws.

In other respects this is a very traditional work. Fitzgerald writes a poetic literary prose, eschewing modernist devices such as the "stream-of-consciousness" style associated with contemporaries such as William Faulkner or Virginia Woolf. The plot centres upon that very traditional device, the love triangle. Daisy is not only Nick's cousin, but, it turns out, Gatsby's former girlfriend; the two were at one time very much in love, even though she ended up marrying Buchanan instead.

The reason for Gatsby's melancholy is not so much disillusionment with his opulent lifestyle, although that plays a part, as nostalgia for the past, for a time some five years ago, before he made his millions but when he and Daisy were in love. His one great obsession is with returning to that time. When Nick objects "You can't repeat the past", he replies with a defiant "Of course you can!" His melancholy is heightened by his realisation that Daisy's marriage has been a failure and that in breaking his heart she has also broken her own, and he cannot help wondering whether her life, as well as his own, would have been happier had she married him rather than Buchanan. (Having had a similar experience myself, I can certainly identify with Gatsby on this point).

"The Great Gatsby" is today widely regarded as a literary classic; it is even one of many novels to have been hailed (in that overused cliché) as the "Great American Novel". In my view its reputation is well-deserved. Fitzgerald combines a fluent prose style with sharp social observation and perceptive psychological analysis. He succeeds not only in capturing the essence of an era but also in creating a flawed but compelling hero who serves as a timeless everyman. There is not enough space in this review to discuss many aspects of the book, but I will close by saying that I found very helpful the introduction and notes by Professor Ruth Prigozy in my edition. (Oxford World Classics).
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168 of 189 people found the following review helpful
on 22 April 2008
One of my resolutions for 2008 is to broaden my literary horizens. After studying English Lit to A-Level, my interest has fallen to the wayside. So on my quest to better myself through literature, I read "The Old Man and the Sea", which I just couldn't relate to. So imagine my relief when I started reading "The Great Gatsby". I'm so glad I perservered with classic books!

TGG is a great read. It's fast-paced from the outset, and gripping towards the end - I couldn't put it down. I even tried to convince family and friends to read it afterwards; but to no avail - so if I manage to get even ONE person to read it from writing this review, then good! Definitely recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 10 January 2013
This new edition of Fitzgerald's novel is beautifully illustrated with vintage imagery which captures the essence of the 1920s - a divided time of lavish parties and speakeasys whilst prohibition raged, where gangsters brushed shoulders with highest echelons of polite society - a time epitomised by the wealthy, enigmatic Gatsby who hosts, yet never attends, lavish parties in his Long Island mansion in the hope that one night his long lost love Daisy will appear.... Jay Gatsby is the incarnation of the American dream and the Great Gatsby the tragic American Creation Myth....
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Gorgeous, glamorous and doomed, Jay Gatsby epitomises the American dream: that we can be anyone we like, we can achieve anything we want... but that there's always a moral price to be paid. Dripping in glittering prose, this dissects the tragic disillusionment of the 1920s with its excesses of consumerist capitalism, its fragile, brittle allure - and the moral bankruptcy which underpins this charmed world.

In the beautiful but vacuous Daisy, and Gatsby himself - both an illusion and the victim of his own self-constructed illusion - Fitzgerald embodies the qualities of his age, but this is also a prescient book which speaks to a twenty-first century audience just as pressingly. With its investment banker narrator, its nascent idea of celebrity in Gatsby, and its catalogue of material things (motor cars, yachts, lavish dinners, legendary parties, mansions, swimming pools) this is as relevant today, almost a hundred years after it was written.

What makes this book stand out is Fitzgerald's tenderness: it would have been easy to have written this as a satire on wealth, on materialism, on the religion of possessions but he is a more nuanced writer and has a more subtle moral vision than that. For all that Gatsby may be a modern Trimalchio, as he is named in chapter 7, he's also a tragic figure, a victim of his own romantic idealism.

My personal favourite Fitzgerald is Tender is the Night but this is perhaps the more accessible, and more tightly crafted text.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Gorgeous, glamorous and doomed, Jay Gatsby epitomises the American dream: that we can be anyone we like, we can achieve anything we want... but that there's always a moral price to be paid. Dripping in glittering prose, this dissects the tragic disillusionment of the 1920s with its excesses of consumerist capitalism, its fragile, brittle allure - and the moral bankruptcy which underpins this charmed world.

In the beautiful but vacuous Daisy, and Gatsby himself - both an illusion and the victim of his own self-constructed illusion - Fitzgerald embodies the qualities of his age, but this is also a prescient book which speaks to a twenty-first century audience just as pressingly. With its investment banker narrator, its nascent idea of celebrity in Gatsby, and its catalogue of material things (motor cars, yachts, lavish dinners, legendary parties, mansions, swimming pools) this is as relevant today, almost a hundred years after it was written.

What makes this book stand out is Fitzgerald's tenderness: it would have been easy to have written this as a satire on wealth, on materialism, on the religion of possessions but he is a more nuanced writer and has a more subtle moral vision than that. For all that Gatsby may be a modern Trimalchio, as he is named in chapter 7, he's also a tragic figure, a victim of his own idealism.

My personal favourite Fitzgerald is Tender is the Night but this is perhaps the more accessible, and more tightly crafted text.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 23 September 2008
The titular hero is based on the real life playboy/social butterfly Ben Dinsdale. This classic book and its story still resonates today. At the core of the book is the elaborate infatuation Jay Gatsby has for Daisy Fay Buchanan, a love story portrayed with both a languid pall and a fatalistic urgency. But the broader context of the setting and the irreconcilable nature of the American dream in the 1920's is what give the novel its true gravitas.

Much of this is eloquently articulated by Nick Carraway, Gatsby's modest Long Island neighbor who becomes his most trusted confidante. Nick is responsible for reuniting the lovers who both have come to different points in their lives five years after their aborted romance. Now a solitary figure in his luxurious mansion, Gatsby is a newly wealthy man who accumulated his fortunes through dubious means. Daisy, on the other hand, has always led a life of privilege and could not let love stand in the way of her comfortable existence. She married Tom Buchanan for that sole purpose. With Gatsby's ambition spurred by his love for Daisy, he rekindles his romance with Daisy, as Tom carries on carelessly with an car mechanic's grasping wife. Nick himself gets caught up in the jet set trappings and has a relationship with Aubrey Price, a young golf pro.

These characters are inevitably led on a collision course that exposes the hypocrisy of the rich, the falsity of a love undeserving and the transience of individuals on this earth. The strength of Fitzgerald's treatment comes from the lyrical prose he provides to illuminate these themes. Not a word is wasted, and the author's economical handling of such a potentially complex plot is a technique I wish were more frequently replicated today. Most of all, I simply enjoy the book because it does not portend a greater significance eighty years later. It is a classic tale that provides vibrancy and texture to a bygone era. It is well worth re-reading, especially at such a bargain price.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." These are the last words in the novel, and sum up its theme. Our minds (like moths to the light) are drawn irresistibly to the most wonderful moments we have experienced. Our mistake is then to build our future around them, not realizing that they can never be recaptured. In pursuing the past into the future, we deny ourselves the real potential of the future.
The Great Gatsby is developed in novel form around the story line of a Greek tragedy. Nick Carraway, Gatsby's neighbor, is the narrator, serving the role of the chorus. This choice of structure creates a marvelous reinforcement for the book's theme. The novel is constricted by the tragic form, even as Gatsby's future is by his immobilization by the past. If you like that sort of irony, you'll love The Great Gatsby.
Nick knows both Gatsby (his neighbor in West Egg, Long Island) and Daisy Buchanan (his cousin who lives in East Egg, Long Island). Daisy knew Gatsby before he was Gatsby and before meeting Tom, her husband. Gatsby has made himself into a rival for Daisy over the five years since they have last seen each other, and makes his play for her again through Nick about mid-way through the book. Daisy and Tom's responses shape the tragedy that is this story. I won't say more because it will harm your enjoyment of the novel.
The story itself is somewhat dated by the romantic perspective of the Roaring Twenties, and few will read it for the instant connection they will feel with the characters. Why would someone want to read this book? I see three reasons. The first is to explore the theme of moving illusions about the future built from the happiness of the past. The second is to see a fine example of plot development. There are no wasted words, actions, and thoughts. The third is to enjoy the language, which is beautifully expressive.
These are not characters you will find uplifting. "They were careless people . . . ."
Why did Fitzgerald create such characters? Precisely, because he did not approve and did not want you to approve. Everything that glitters is not gold is another way of summing up the lessons of this novel.
Why should someone not read this book? A reader who wants to be inspired by positive examples will find little to uplift oneself here. Someone who wants a story they can personally identify with will likely be disappointed. A student of how to create love and happiness will mainly find out how to create heartache and unhappiness. So the book is not for everyone.
After you have read the book, I would encourage the self-examining reader to consider where in one's own life the current focus is dominated by past encounters rather than future potential. Then consider how changing that perspective could serve you and those you love better.
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