It’s a Jazz Age classic and now a super-long Baz Luhrmann movie, but, more importantly, The Great Gatsby is also a towering behemoth in the American literary canon. This is a book that packs a seriously heavyweight punch. But, lest you be frightened, it’s also eminently readable: Gatsby is a love-story, a mystery, a rags-to-riches account of success and its unhappy fallout, and a snapshot of NYC life before the Depression kicked in. Daisy and Tom Buchanan, Nick Carraway, and Jay himself are the larger-than-life cast in a cautionary tale about money, corruption, desire and deception that’s just as relevant now as it was in 1925. Need another nudge to crack the spine? Here’s five to help you on your way….
1. It gives a timeless insight into human nature
Gatsby is a fantastic example of how human nature doesn’t change; the decadence and excess of Fitzgerald’s revellers – the flappers, the gangsters, the bankers and strivers – don’t look much different to the financiers and property-boomers of the late 90s and early 2000s. If Gatsby were alive now, his parties would be televised and sponsored and featured on E! online, and he’d work the City; he’d have sold dodgy mortgages and tried to whisk Daisy off to Dubai for the weekend.
2. It showcases an epic time in history
It’s partly based on real life. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald moved to Long Island in the early 1920s, where they were surrounded, like Nick Carraway, by enormous estates and mansions. Gatsby’s vulgar ‘new money’ found its real-life counterpart in the denizens of Great Neck, where the Fitzgeralds settled, while the inherited wealth of the Buchanans was more at home over on Cow Neck – or, in Gatsby’s world, East Egg. Some of the possible inspirations for the house still stand today, like Oheka Castle in Huntington. So if you’ve ever wondered about the lives of the great and the glorious…
3. It’s infinitely better than any film
We’re staunch advocates of reading the book, no matter how much you enjoyed the film; in the case of The Great Gatsby, we’re joined in this by Zelda Fitzgerald, the author’s wife, who said of the 1926 adaptation (directed by Herbert Brenon) that it was ‘ROTTEN and awful and terrible’; the couple walked out of the screening. It was filmed again in 1949 (dir. Eliot Nugent) and 1974 (dir. Jack Clayton), the latter version from a screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola. Coppola, disappointed by the result, said, ‘The script that I wrote did not get made.’ Of Luhrmann’s production, the New York Times advised that it was best enjoyed if the viewer ‘put aside whatever literary agenda you are tempted to bring with you’. We say, then, put aside the movies and read the book – the original and the best!
4. It’s a great example of how failure can breed success
Jay Gatsby is a case-study on the American Dream – the self-made man, the giddy height of success, the idea of financial independence bringing security, freedom and happiness – and how that ideal can implode. This novel wasn’t Fitzgerald’s first foray into that territory, though; before he wrote it, he spent eighteen months on a satirical screenplay called ‘The Vegetable: or From President to Postman’. The play was a disaster – but it helped the gestation process for The Great Gatsby, which Fitzgerald begun as he was redrafting the doomed ‘Vegetable’. If you’ve ever felt downbeat because a project isn’t working out, read Gatsby and see what can arise from the ashes!
5. Its cover is a retro design classic
If hyperbole and retro trivia float your boat, then check out Ernest Hemingway’s appraisal of the original cover for The Great Gatsby: Despite loving the novel itself, he called the jacket “the ugliest he’d ever seen”. Curious? Sure you are! We don’t think it’s ugly, though, and we’re also mad about the various other imagery associated with Gatsby – in particular, Doctor TJ Eckleberg’s ‘enormous yellow spectacles’. In fact, we’d go so far as to call the book one of the most stylish novels we’ve read – and we hope you’ll agree!