Book review: The Great Gatsby
So the latest film version of The Great Gatsby, one of my favourite classics, is coming out this year.
I saw the old version (starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow) in high school, where I also read the book for the first time in Year 13. The new film has updated eye candy in the form of Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby, Carey Mulligan as Daisy and Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway.
A few days ago, I stumbled across this Salon article, which presents in a convincing package the theory that Carraway, the narrator of the novel, was actually gay and in love with Gatsby. I'm sure I wasn't the first person to think - of course! Of course! It was as if someone had switched on all the lights in the room.
In the article, writer Greg Olear lays out evidence from the original text like little ducks in a row. There was the oddly functional way that Carraway described the female characters in the novel, who Olear correctly surmises must have all been, by necessity of the storyline, mega-babes.
Essentially, Olear says, the nicest thing that Carraway said about Daisy, the Southern belle of such great beauty that Gatsby has never been able to forget her, is that she has a nice voice. Then there was golfer Jordan, Carraway's semi love interest, described in a rather lukewarm voice as "slender" and "small-breasted...with an erect carriage". Contrast this with Carraway's description of Tom Buchanan: "he seemed to fill those glistening boots until he strained the top lacing, and you could see a great pack of muscle shifting when his shoulder moved under his thin coat". Phew, someone get me a fan!
Dissecting literary texts is all a bit of fun, and book clubs across the world do this all the time. But the reason I love the Carraway-is-gay theory is because I think it explains so much, and is a great opportunity to revisit the story and look at it from an entirely different point of view - something which we as readers don't often get to do.
I'm sure most people have had some brush with The Great Gatsby by now. Apart from the fact that it's probably one of the most popular texts in the high school English syllabus, not to mention university lit papers, it's also a fairly short and easy read.
The economy of language makes this a book that even non-readers can get through in a short day or so, with breaks for real-life interruptions.
What I love about The Great Gatsby is that it represents so much of what is wrong about the society of the Roaring Twenties, where a patina of excess and decadence has hardened over genuine human emotion and experiences.
The novel is full of people desperately looking for honest connections with each other, but failing to find it. The one shining figure who represents all this is, of course, Jay Gatsby, and his eternal quest for the green light at the end of Daisy's dock - I consider that one of the most poignant images in literature, the image of a man in his gorgeous clothes, with all his ill-gotten wealth, standing wearily at the end of his West Egg lawn, looking longingly across the water to his married lover's East Egg dock and waiting for the green light to come on.
I have always thought of it as a story, not so much of great romance or star-crossed lovers - though there's a little bit of that in it - but more of fractured humanity, and how sometimes the life that you have created becomes a kind of trap which you cannot escape, no matter how much you want to.
There are some great quotes in the novel too, the one where Daisy (who certainly won't win any awards for Mother of the Year), says of her three-year-old daughter, who was mostly being raised by her nanny: "I hope she'll be a fool - that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool."
Then there's this unforgettable description of one of Gatsby's infamous parties: "in his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars".
The beauty, and also the ultimate tragedy of Gatsby is his childlike sense of hope, which persists even in the face of cold reality. Perhaps it's also representative of the times he lived in.
Have you read The Great Gatsby? Will you?