Today I Read…The Great Gatsby

Great GatsbyToday I read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Nick Carraway has a mysterious neighbour–the fantastically rich, flawlessly fashionable, and completely unknown Jay Gatsby. He sees the glittering parties across the lawn, filled with the most beautiful people that 1922 New York has to offer. And then one day Nick gets invited to one of Gatsby’s parties, and he meets the man behind the legend, and the rumours.

Gatsby’s life is centered around his lost love, the beautiful Daisy, for whom he throws lavish parties in the hope that she will hear of them and be impressed, and they will someday reunite. Daisy, who just so happens to be Nick’s cousin, and living nearby, and not-entirely-happily married to a millionaire named Tom Buchanan. NIck reintroduces Gatsby and Daisy, and they begin an affair.

When Tom discovers the affair he is outraged, despite his own less-than-faithful behaviour, and persuades Daisy that Gatsby’s fortune is built on bootleg liquor and other criminal activities, and that her true loyalty should lie with him, her husband. On the way home from the confrontation with Tom, the yellow car that Gatsby and Daisy are driving hits and kills Myrtle, Tom’s mistress. Myrtle’s husband George believes that the car was driven by Myrtle’s lover, Gatsby, and arrives at Gatsby’s home with a gun, prepared to shoot both Gatsby and himself.

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I confess, I picked this to read because of the movie coming out (Yes I know it’s been and gone at the theaters, I’m behind on my reviews. Shush.). Then of course I didn’t see the movie. However, I will say that reading this story aloud was an excellent way to put my 6 month old niece to sleep.

The narrator, Nick Carraway, has the gift of noticing everything and remaining totally passive throughout. He meets Gatsby by accident, gets invited to his party, and is requested to facilitate a meeting with his cousin Daisy once the connection is revealed. He watches as things happen around him,  but very little happens to him. Even though Nick is present, this is not his story, and he exists only to tell the story of other, more interesting people, all of whom are desperately unhappy and terribly shallow and have no idea how to change their circumstances, let alone the serious desire to do so.

Still, despite the fact that all of the characters are vaguely unlikable, in addition to not liking each other much, it is a compelling and descriptive story. In a way, I think that Gatsby’s life was more tragic than his death–lonely and desperate for attention and company, and used by so many people, and he didn’t care because he was using them right back. Nick describes Tom and Daisy as careless at one point, people who let others clean up after them, and Nick is the one left to clean up after the death of the Great Gatsby, because there isn’t anyone else who bothers.

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There was music from my neighbor’s house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars. At high tide in the afternoon I watched his guests diving from the tower of his raft, or taking the sun on the hot sand of his beach while his two motor-boats slit the waters of the Sound, drawing aquaplanes over cataracts of foam. On week-ends his Rolls-Royce became an omnibus, bearing parties to and from the city between nine in the morning and long past midnight, while his station wagon scampered like a brisk yellow bug to meet all trains. And on Mondays eight servants, including an extra gardener, toiled all day with mops and scrubbing-brushes and hammers and garden-shears, repairing the ravages of the night before.

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.

At least once a fortnight a corps of caterers came down with several hundred feet of canvas and enough colored lights to make a Christmas tree of Gatsby’s enormous garden. On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors-d’oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold. In the main hall a bar with a real brass rail was set up, and stocked with gins and liquors and with cordials so long forgotten that most of his female guests were too young to know one from another.

By seven o’clock the orchestra has arrived, no thin five-piece affair, but a whole pitful of oboes and trombones and saxophones and viols and cornets and piccolos, and low and high drums. The last swimmers have come in from the beach now and are dressing up-stairs; the cars from New York are parked five deep in the drive, and already the halls and salons and verandas are gaudy with primary colors, and hair shorn in strange new ways, and shawls beyond the dreams of Castile. The bar is in full swing, and floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside, until the air is alive with chatter and laughter, and casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot, and enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other’s names.

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