The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
Cover of the first edition, 1925 (Wikipedia)
Going back to a book you read once in a distant past, like 35-40 years ago, can be like revisiting a place you haven’t seen since then. It can appear familiar and very different all in one.
As is often the case for me with classics read long ago, my memory of it consisted only of vague images and a certain lingering “atmosphere”, rather than details of the plot.
So my memories just involved this rich guy living alone in a big house and throwing extravagant parties; and the story being told by his neighbour, who was more of a regular guy; and an overall impression of rather sad 1920’s decadance – people trying to be happy but not succeeding very well. And that was about it.
What made me reread it now was a wish to update my memory and try to grasp why (besides the title) it is considered one of The Great. I also never read it in the original language – my old falling-apart paperback copy of it was a Swedish translation. (Falling apart not by frequent reading but from age and bad glue.) So I bought it for my Kindle. (The book is not yet so old that it’s available for free, but it is avaiblable cheap).
I’ll not bother about a synopsis of the plot because you can easily find that elsewhere on the internet if you wish; and if you’re like me, it’s re-discovering it for yourself that you will enjoy.
Be it enough to say that there were more layers to the plot than I remembered. Personally, I also find myself thinking much more now about aspects like narrative perspective, and how the author uses language. In those respects I do think The Great Gatsby scores high. I also still find it a rather sadly convincing reflection of its time. (The story takes place in 1922. Fitzgerald started planning the novel in the same year and picked inspiration from Long Island New York where he himself lived at the time.)
Wikipedia says about the cover art of the first edition:
A little-known artist named Francis Cugat was commissioned to illustrate the book while Fitzgerald was in the midst of writing it. The cover was completed before the novel, with Fitzgerald so enamored of it that he told his publisher he had "written it into" the novel.
There are a couple of different possible interpretations as to what he meant by that.
She smiled slowly and walking through her husband as if he were a ghost …
I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.
Every Friday five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New York – every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves. There was a machine in the kitchen which could extract the juice of two hundred oranges in half an hour, if a little button was pressed two hundred times by a butler’s thumb.
“I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”
Every one suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.
The truth was that Jay Gatsby, of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself.