There was something strangely appealing about the way this book laid down its groundwork and embarked upon what promised to be a tumultuous portrayal of a unique individual with an unknown obsession. The only problem is that the title of the book is so suggestively ambitious and the foundation so solid, that the rest of the book inspires a mere ‘meh’ from me.
The Great Gatsby claims to be a commentary on the ‘Roaring Twenties’ but other than a few sparkling and gaudy scenes, it falls short on the front. Once you have understood how all the guests that frequent Gatsby’s swinging parties possess false bottoms, there is nothing else to examine in their scanty conversations and their petty gossip about Gatsby’s origins.
The book also claims to be a love story about two damaged individuals who are destroyed by a materialism they could not sustain. As with most else here, you just have to accept this fact at face value. You never see the ingenuity of Gatsby’s vast fortune-amassing schemes or the freshness in Daisy, who is somehow said to have induced in him a passion so ardorous, he created an entire empire of wealth to host her extravagant demands. What was it that held these two together despite five years of separation? What trails did they undergo along their journey? What makes their love a love worthy of the narrator’s attentions?
Coming to the narrator himself, this story is told from the first person view of Nick Carrayway, a detached neighbor. The purpose, I believe, is that Nick’s cynical and objective assessment is meant to give the plot an appearance of beholding a distant phenomenon with an intimacy that an eye-witness can provide. But it fails even there! It is impossible to gauge the slow transformation of Nick’s sympathies from that of impersonal observance to that of hero-worship towards Gatsby. Indeed, there is no substantial reason for his shift because when Nick starts off with his suspicious interpretation of Gatsby’s murderous gaze, you believe him. But when he randomly becomes the vehicle of Gatsby’s deliverance, you’re left in the haze because you’re never told when and why you should like Gatsby.
Coming to Gatsby himself, I couldn’t understand what it is that makes him ‘Great’. I could not help but be as annoyed as Tom Buchanan, every time Gatsby called someone an ‘old sport’. The exposition of his past life is brief and leaves a bitter after-taste of incompleteness in your mouth- right from his explosion on the scene of decadence to the passion that leads him down that path in the first place. Who was Gatsby and why was he who he was? Why did Nick grow into his staunch right-hand-man? What inspired all the gossip and hatred towards him? Why was he damaged by his love and how did it consume him? Why should we believe in him? All unanswered questions.
This book was clearly a disappointment to me. I enjoyed the lucidity of Fitzgerald’s expression and the simple weaving of the plot. But the plot itself felt flimsy to me, the characters constantly fell short of expectation. What could have been a beautiful book capturing the essence of an epoch, came across to me as an exaggerated story about unrelatable characters.