Reflections on Readings #2 – The Great Gatsby

Once upon a time, reading used to get priority over everything else in my life. I remember taking a book to most places I visited as a child. The times have changed. Reading quite does not fall into the category of first priority these days. It is something for which I have to make time over all the other pressing priorities in a day. And sometimes, when I travel for business, I make use of that time to devour a book which will more or last the duration of my journey. The point is, reading is out of compulsion now, a necessity without which I might even stop living. Yet, it is not the natural choice of activity in a day.

The majority of reading I do today belong to the short non-fiction category. These, I read from magazines or websites of magazines. But still, I derive the greatest pleasure of reading when I read long pieces of fiction. These do not happen frequently. I’m reading Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings right now and I feel I will take about a year or so in digesting its contents. And I oft wonder when it is that I will read again like in the good old days. As a child of 10 or 11, I used to borrow one book at a time from a local library in the morning and be back in the library by afternoon to return the book. As I mentioned, reading was a priority back then. Everything else was so unimportant.

Recently, I chanced upon a copy of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It is, in the opinion of many authorities, one of the greatest novels to be ever written. It is a smaller book compared to the average size of book in the period it came from. It reminded me of Hemingway’s short whirlwind of a novel, The Old Man and the Sea, which again I had read in quite a gust. The first few pages of the 193-page narration of Gatsby’s enigma and chivalry were slow to take. I had difficulty connecting to the contents: a difficulty in understanding where we were headed with the narrative. You are gradually introduced to the Gatsby with all his mysterious airs and the many stories surrounding him. But then, things change.

Front Cover of “The Great Gatsby” (Image Courtesy: Wikipedia)

At a certain point, we discover how the narrator is connected to Gatsby and that is when I finally found the book unputdownable. I finished the book in about a little more than two days, which in these busy days is quite a fast read. I do not intend to give away the entire story or even the basic premises of the book. Those sort of previews are available aplenty online. You could start here to get a glimpse of what the book is about. But more importantly, what makes The Great Gatsby – and I reaffirm it is – one of the greatest novels ever written?

Firstly, you cannot find a flaw in its flow. It is one of those rare close-to-perfect narratives I have read. Every scene, every word, every character is written for a reason. Secondly, this is one book which can be termed as truly timeless and transcends all geographic boundaries. Even as the story is set in a time (early 1920s) and place (New York) I do not relate to, the premises could have been anywhere in the world, of any age that we know. These things happen and strangely, it continues to, even in our part of the world. Succinctly speaking, despite being an American story based in New York, it is something we can experience even back here in any of the cities of India. Thirdly, it is gripping to say the least. From its slow start to the surprising finale – I do not feel any other finale could have suited it better – the book holds a fire alight in the readers’ minds. For days afterwards, I would still brood over the fate of the characters and wonder why it all had to happen. Of course, the story has its disturbing moments as well, especially towards the end of it.

Jay Gatsby stands out of this one as a powerful character despite being seen with loath through the eyes of Nick Carraway, the narrator and his neighbour, throughout the story. Nick also narrates the story in such a way as to sometimes make us think whether Nick himself is honest after all. Every character including Daisy Buchanan, Tom Buchanan, Jordan Baker and Myrtle Wilson have shades of grey in each of them. After all, within the deep tenets of each of us, we all have an evil side. No one is absolutely heroic. No one is absolutely bad.

Having heard so much said about this book, I have for long wanted to read it. And I agree to it being a timeless modern classic. It is a book one could carry in his memory forever, and I for one look forward to reading again. I am yet to read a lot of great books. But I have no qualms about proclaiming the greatness of this one. Time Magazine has listed The Great Gatsby (first published in 1925) in its 100 Best English Novels of all time. The book features in several such other lists too. Moreover, later this year The Great Gatsby would hit the screens around the world as a Major Motion Picture, which as per the information I have, is the 6th such movie to be made. Leonardo Di Caprio plays the role of Jay Gatsby and the film will reach screens during Christmas of 2012. I can’t think of a better person in Hollywood to play this role. However, I am disturbed with the thought of whether the Director, Baz Luhrmann, would be able to pull it off, and I would rather stay away from the movie in any case. As for those of you who love to read a good book and one that is especially strong in literature as well as plot, here is one you can take with you forever.

Hope you enjoy the rest of your weekend. Here is me signing off. Good Day! Good Night!

Recommended Reading:

Fitzgerald’s Letter to his editor at the end of which he mentions his desire to write what would later become “The Great Gatsby”

F Scott Fitzgerald’s Letter to his editor along with an early draft of The Great Gatsby

H. L. Mencken’s Review of “The Great Gatsby”, which eventually turned the book into a phenomenal bestseller

Fitzgerald’s letter to a fan who had read and enjoyed “The Great Gatsby”

Wikipedia entry for F. Scott Fitzgerald

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