marginalia || The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The farther I get from the moment I closed this book, the more it resonates. I could go back and leaf through the pages, look at the pages and passages that I’ve marked, and I am immediately brought back. And scenes change the more I read them. And, oddly, the scenes are more vivid in this revisiting. [A collaborative, interactive dimension to this particular reading experience that I hadn't foreseen.] And sometimes, well, I’d just be minding my own business, and Nick Carraway’s words would filter in, or I’d see Daisy’s face in profile, and (weirdly) Gatsby’s shoulders.

It doesn’t take much to figure out that, hey, I love F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s The Great Gatsby. I loved it while I was reading it, and I now love it more because it sneaks up on me and just wrenches me.

It could be read as a novel of class, of how the roaring 20s — the Jazz Age, as Fitzgerald himself coined so — lived glamor, and especially anomie; ridiculously wealthy people with attitude problems and an atrocious lack of child-rearing abilities. Likable or not, these was how people lived then, at least this was how Nick Carraway showed us. In Matthew J. Bruccoli’s introduction to the “authorized” text, he writes: “The Great Gatsby does not proclaim the nobility of the human spirit; it is not politically correct; it does not reveal how to solve the problems of life; it delivers no fashionable or comforting messages. It is just a masterpiece.” And in my experience, I treated it as a masterpiece because of how Gatsby’s relationship with his ennui-stricken, much-married-to-a-douche Daisy exists, struggles, in this context. [How could I resist?]

He hadn’t once ceased looking at Daisy and I think he revalued everything in his house according to the measure of response it drew from her well-loved eyes. Sometimes, too, he stared around at his possessions in a dazed way as though in her actual and astounding presence none of it was any longer real. Once he nearly toppled down a flight of stairs.

And even then, it was not so much the love story of Gatsby and Daisy, but, well, primarily, Gatsby’s overwhelming [at times, misguided] love for Daisy.

He took what he could get, ravenously and unscrupulously — eventually he took Daisy one still October night, took her because he had no real right to touch her hand.

The kind of love that made me go, eventually, “C’mere, Gatsby, I’ll love you the way you want.” Creepy, I know. I was taken by how earnest Gatsby was, how fully in love he’d decided to be, no matter the consequences, no matter what lengths he had to take to convey that love. Imagine him holding extravagant parties, just in the hopes that his Daisy would wander in, intrigued by the noise and the bright lights. How tightly he held on to the past, and to the hope that the future would continue in the same vein.

As I went over to say goodbye I saw that the expression of bewilderment had come back into Gatsby’s face, as though a faint doubt had occurred to him as to the quality of his present happiness. Almost five years! There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams — not through her own fault but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man stores up in his ghostly heart.

As Carraway himself shouted to Gatsby across that ever-present yard: They’re a rotten crowd . . . You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together. I wholeheartedly agree. I could inflict violence on aforementioned rotten crowd, and I’ll be all-too-willing to whisk Jay Gatsby away.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning –

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne ceaselessly into the past.

Beautiful book, one difficult to write about. It just is, for me — this is how I can talk about right now. [Oh, affect, I like you.] We clicked, this book and I. And, well, I’ll just let it soak some more.

__________

[Yes, I know that my copy of the book reads Eat Gatsby because of the price sticker from BookSale. It has amused me to no end, which tells you how immature I can be.] [I read the book for ReadHard, an awesome Tumblr-based book club run by awesome people. But it was an excuse, even a happy coincidence: Gatsby was one of those books that I just knew I would like.]

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29 comments

  1. One of my all time favorites! A must re-read!

    1. One of my favorites now as well, and I’m sure I’ll be rereading this too. :]

  2. Your first paragraph captures the way I feel about Gatsby. Loved the book to bits, and although I only read it last year, I really feel like I want to read it again after reading your review.

    As for the Eat Gatsby – I didn’t notice it ’til you pointed it out. I was amused…:)

    1. It’s not very mature of us to giggle at “Eat Gatsby,” but we must get our happiness where we can, right? :] And yes, The Great Gatsby was a joy. I knew I’d love it going in, but nothing beats the actual experience. I’ll read it again, there’s no doubt about that.

  3. Absolutely love everything about this book. It is so incredibly well-crafted. I cannot find it at the moment, but the back story on the revisions opened new vistas of understanding how well and tightly the novel is put together. I love the quotes you pulled.

    I have read it twice. I will definitely be reading it again. It is one of those books that is, alone, a course in literature.

    1. One thing I loved about the notes re the revisions was how it pointed out some of Fitzgerald’s mistakes re facts and continuity, haha. Just goes to show that when nitpicking, it’s not a perfect book. But then again, that doesn’t matter. I think it’s perfect, flaws and all — besides, they’re flaws only the most O.C. could see. I mean, Fitzgerald’s prose is just pitch-perfect. Gruff and earnest at the same time. And Jay Gatsby!

  4. Quite simply, one of the greatest books of all time (or should I say “eatest books”?). I read this book as part of a series of books which each represented a memorable era in American 20th Century history. It is clearly one of those books which resonates on so many different levels. You’ve inspired me to fish out my copy and revisit it! Thanks.

    1. I saw what you did there! :] It’s always been said that it’s the Great American Novel, and I don’t much put stock on those kinds of labels. I’m changing my mind though — all the praise heaped on this book’s just spot-on.

  5. Hahaa Eat Gatsby IS amusing! ;D I read this in college for English class required reading, so I didn’t like it much. Really need to re-read this at some point, but probably not in near future.

    1. I never had this for required reading, so I suppose that went a long way in making sure I wouldn’t resent it, even a little, :] I hope you get to read it again. I think I would’ve felt Meh about it if I’d read it in college.

  6. This is one of the “great novels” that I haven’t read yet, but I will, e-v-e-n-t-u-a-l-l-y. There is a really neat essay in Tin House’s book of collected essays on the craft of writing, The Writer’s Notebook. You’d like the collection, overall, I think, but this essay, Susan Bell’s “Revisioning The Great Gatsby”, would be particularly timely.

    1. I’ve always felt ambivalent about “great novels” — but whenever there are lists, I’d look at some books with a “Why not?” attitude. Same as all books, I suppose. I’ve found some gems, and Fitzgerald’s is definitely one of them.

      Okay, now I have extreme book lust for The Writer’s Notebook. And guess what? None of the bookstores here carry it. Dammit. [BRB, crying.]

  7. This novel has been such a surprise for me. I lived one year in the states while I was still going to high school and The Great Gatsby was one my English class reading requirements. My English was poor and I was pretty terrified and instead, I fell in love with Gatsby!

    1. It is a surprise. I’d expected some flashy-broody scenes, and there are, but there was so much heart in it. And the prose is just perfect, I thought. I think it’s awesome to have The Great Gatsby welcome you into the English language. :)

      Now I’m thinking how it would be to read it in another language. Then again, I only know one other language, and no Filipino translations of Fitzgerald at the moment!

  8. Gatsby is my favorite Fitzgerald book. Having read The Beautiful and Damned, This Side of Paradise, and Tender is the Night, Gatsby still holds a very special place in my heart. It’s sad in a beautiful way. Fitzgerald is one of the best American prose stylist. I enjoy reading his social commentary when the narrator extracts himself from the social interactions. The book is mesmerizing, romantic, and melancholy.

    1. Yes, I completely agree: The Great Gatsby makes sadness — or the sadness of being hopeful — very very beautiful. I have the language to thank for that, the strong characters — even the decision to tell the tale through Carraway’s eyes. Oh, and you know that I loved your review. And I’m certain I’ll be reading Fitzgerald’s other works too. I’ll just have to decide which one to read first. :]

  9. I reread this book every summer as some pseudo-religious practice. Something that helped me understand Gatsby better (maybe understand isn’t the word–I already did–but “articulate”) was actually a line from This Side of Paradise:
    “He dreamed not of being, but becoming.”
    For me it made sense of the very passages you quote here…
    And you’re going to want to read some of Fitzy’s short stories, too, if you haven’t already.

    1. This is actually my first Fitzgerald, and yeah, fell in love with it. Thanks for that quote. I’ll definitely read more of him — esp his short stories, now that you mention it. Love short fiction, and I might as well experience it the Fitzy way.

      And yes, I can’t wait to reread this.

  10. I think this is a book that – like Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s – doesn’t quite get the respect it deserves because people associate it more with the glitz and glamour elements (and in turn, the people who are OBSESSED with those elements) than the great writing.

    1. I’ve heard people say that it was all about the Jazz Age, how glitzy it could be. Yes, I was aware of the, hm, lazy-bored hedonism of the time, of some of the characters — but Jay Gatsby just took hold of my heart and refused to let it go.

  11. This is one of those books that’s short enough that I can enjoyably read it again and again, without feeling like I’m making a major time commitment and tearing myself away from other reads. I haven’t read it in years—both times being in high school. The first time I did, I disliked it because, I think, I didn’t GET it. I just didn’t care to look below the surface. And then I read it for English class and loved it. I got so much more out of the discussion and analysis that I had thought I would [which sparked my love of book discussion...because discussion just gives you so much MORE].

    Between this and Catcher in the Rye, I feel like such a young adult cliche with the books I could read over and over.

    1. What you said about The Great Gatsby might just mirror my experience with Catcher. I never read it for school, but I’ve read it for about three times — first time, I was really young, and I was 16 when I last read it. It never got to me. I loathed Holden, haha. I know I’ll reread it eventually — there’s no harm in trying, and maybe fourth time’s the charm?

      Especially since I feel so guilty about hating his book when Salinger died, haha.

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