It must be my age. I keep coming back to books I read so long ago. This time I’ve had another go The Great Gatsby. Such a time since I looked at it that I could recall only one incident and there are in fact, as far as I can see, only two dramatic incidents in the whole book. I find that I’m still rather lukewarm about the characters. I recognise that Fitzgerald was portraying a kind of frenetic world-weariness and that so many of his players are quite deliberately portrayed as frivolous and shallow. Even so, could he not have made them live a shade more convincingly?
Gatsby himself ought to stand out as a tragic figure, a great lost romantic hero, a man of significantly mysterious background. But he’s not strongly enough etched for that kind of role. I wanted more Heathcliff in his personality, more dash. After all he’s linked to Wolfshiem, the man who fixed the World Series in 1919. You don’t think a gangster like Wolfshiem – in real life, Arnold Rothstein - was going to take on such a limp figure as one of his main men, do you? He is a major crime figure and so by implication is Gatsby.
As for the women I had feelings for only Daisy Buchanan and poor Myrtle Wilson, the latter no more than a bit player who is to have a powerful effect on how the story will ultimately turn out.
And that’s it. Or at least, that’s nearly it, for what raises the novel above the average is Fitzgerald’s wonderful capacity for summoning up atmosphere, the mood of place and the essence, the very feel of time, of bracing mornings, of heavy humid afternoons and the calm of evenings. His descriptions are really outstanding, not just Gatsby’s palace or the Buchanans’ ‘cheerful red and white Georgian Colonial mansion overlooking the bay’ but Nick Carraway’s ‘weatherbeaten cardboard bungalow’ in West Egg and Wilson’s down-at-heel garage. But best of all is Fitzgerald’s calling up of that desolate area of land, ‘a ‘valley of the ashes’, its ugly sense of being set in a kind of no-man’s-land between Gatsby’s Xanadu and New York where the book’s cataclysmic event will take place.
So did I enjoy it, this second reading, so many years from my first foray?
Frankly I did and that in spite of all my reservations. That I should enjoy a book whose characters in the main failed to move me is odd.
It is odd, don’t you agree?