Rated as the second best novel of the 20th century by the Modern Library, I had high expectations for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. During university I was familiar with the novel without knowing anything about it. Whispered on the lips of every English Literature student and adapted into a blockbuster film in 2013, I have suffered an increasing compulsion to see what the fuss is about.
Narrated by Nick Carraway who rents a cottage next to the mansion occupied by the mysterious – yet particularly drippy – Jay Gatsby, the enigma within The Great Gatsby is slowly revealed. Often praised for teasing out the shallow nature of rich individuals and the emptiness of the Great Depression shortly after the war, The Great Gatsby portrays love, lust, gluttony, moral incompetence and most importantly, desperation – but when it’s narrated so flatly, these elements just felt insincere. I’m inclined to suggest that Fitzgerald encapsulates the shallowness of the jazz era and the upper classes so starkly that his intended accomplishment is the undoing of the novel.
Of course, the lavish and confident Jay Gatsby is an illusion, magnifying his superficial attributes to recapture the attention of his first love; Daisy. Despite her obnoxious and frilly demeanour, Daisy fulfills the trope of a beautiful girl who got away, marrying Tom Buchanan instead of Gatsby simply because he was richer. Although there is a beautiful tension of reality and the unreal woven between Daisy and Jay Gatsby’s attempted reconciliation throughout the novel, at no point did I feel seduced by their connection. I didn’t champion their reunion and rather than feel haunted by their past – I often asked myself, ‘so what?’.
If there is beauty to be found in this novel, it is not in its characters, and certainly not in what feels like an archaic plot – too rife with symbolism and underlying meanings to enjoy. With a novel devoid of human emotion and instead driven by ghosts and unrequited longings, it surprises me that a plot so full of life, characters and impressions can simultaneously be so empty and hollow. Although Fitzgerald perfectly captures the bleakness of the Great Depression, it is a shame that the novel itself can be held in such a similar regard.
Bland, uninspiring and well used on high school reading lists to punish students, the highest praise I can give to The Great Gatsby is its length. Despite being marked by what should be shocking tragedy and violence, I am just simply glad that the end came quickly. Generally, I found The Great Gatsby to be lacking and overrated. In the bluntest of terms, I failed to see what is supposedly so great.