- Urbino, Italy - I had always wanted to read this book. It is a well known American classic, probably the American classic, and I own this beautiful, old copy of the book, dated 1970 - it belonged to my father, then my sister, and now it has its own place in my library. It's one of those books whose paper really smells like books - something that adds to its charm, that sense of respect you give to old things - the font is so old-fashioned, and the pages almost fall apart when you turn them. I've watched this book for the past five years or so, just watched.
The cover describes the novel and its main character by saying "Great in the life he led, great in the dreams he cherished, not less great in his tragic and absurd death." I expected to read of a ridiculously rich guy, very self-absorbed, so distant from everyone else. He kind of is like that, at first. For the first half of the book you can hardly understand who this person is and why a book is centered around him. You feel Nick the narrator's sense of respect towards him, but you just don't get why. Is this just a story of wealth and glamour, another empty tale?
Wow, it really is not. And as I found out, page after page, I felt more and more sorry for Gatsby. That slow, empty first part of the book is there for an obvious reason: you have to look at Gatsby the way that everyone, wrongly, did. The surface is just beauty, richness, alcohol and myth. Parties at a home whose owner no one knows, but everyone has a story about. Gossip. Appearance. I didn't live in those years but everything I heard and watched about them confirmed that idea - the image, the impression is what matters. Underneath, here, there is so, so much.
The choice of Nick as the narrator is extremely relevant. He is Gatsby's neighbor, he watches these parties every night and finally gets invited, intimately getting to know the man, and he is key to the story, being Daisy's cousin and recconnecting the two of them after a long time apart. More than that though, he understands who Gatsby is from the very first glance. He is the one who really looks beyond the surface, sees the person and not the personality. The narration is smooth and linear, just a camera that gets the right frame.
Gatsby is consumed, literally, by his love for Daisy Buchanan, his very first love, who is now married to Tom Buchanan, who obviously cheats on her with a woman married to someone else. Daisy is one of the characters in Literature I hated the most - though she's never going to surpass Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter. She's so vain; a woman who, in the end, is still a girl. She plays with people's feelings, she wants eyes on herself, and Gatsby's feelings for her are so strong. He holds her like a flower; he worships her like a goddess.
These feelings, though, are a little more complicated than this. It's not just love. It's love that dates back a few years, when things were different, when the people involved were different. It is wonderfully explained in the book:
"He wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy. His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could once return to a certain starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was."
And that's why books are precious. They can take you to wonderful places, they can even take you to worlds that do not exist, they can tell you about pirates, wizards, or simply ridiculously rich men whose lives are dreams, and tell you not so surprisingly that they just feel like you.
They too feel nostalgic, desperate, sad love, they too are slaves to their hearts. They too love someone, and that person that they love above everything else more than they will ever love any other person, is a vapid jerk. Welcome to reality.
What is more sad in all of this is that this crazy love really pushes him to the limit. I'm not going to tell you what happens, but maybe you already know - after all, this novel is extremely popular - or maybe I gave too much away quoting that sentence from the front page. When you'll read the last sentence though, the loss of surprise is not going to touch you. You're just going to read those last words, and flip the last page, close the book and feel like you're a little taller. And still, when you too will find that person who makes your heart go crazy, you'll forget about those extra inches earned by reading this book, and you too are going to be Gatsby.
Rating: 5/5 Sour Grapes