Venue: Arcadia Bar
Date: 16th September 2011
Time: 5pm – 7pm
Discussed: The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Agreed on: Grace Williams Says It Loud – Emma Henderson
What a fantastic meeting! This was one of those books where EVERYONE had something to say! In fact, it was the most animated, detailed and engrossing discussion we’ve had about a book so far! So much so that it’s pretty difficult to write about – we jumped about, covering so many different themes, concepts, characters in the shortest space of time – there’s only so much that I can write when we’re all nattering like that!
Whether we loved it or hated it (and we seemed to do both!); no one at the meeting disputed that Gatsby was indeed a modern classic. A beautifully written book – the language was crisp and clear; at once descriptive and nuanced – especially in relation to the characters and their motivations.
For those who had read it for the first time; the ending blindsided them! At least two book clubbers are very much looking forward to reading it again in a few years and seeing how being forewarned of the events affects their enjoyment. This only increased when they noted that a number of us who had read the book during our formative years (myself included) and weren’t necessarily enthused about the prospect of re-reading it, found to our great surprise, we not only enjoyed it but two people actually took far more from it than expected! (Except for one person, who went from enjoying it to being relatively indifferent to it)
Despite being a relatively short book; the themes are epic in scope. In essence, this book is a detailed look at the ‘American Dream’ in action during the 1920’s (and probably every moment since then), focusing very specifically on a particular social group – namely the obscenely wealthy. Very few of us liked any of the primary characters – finding them to be vacuous and shallow. We were unable to identify with them – even the protagonist and supposed everyman Nick. They occupied a world without consequences and subsequently one without genuine affection or consideration.
We additionally noted similarities between the Nick of this book and that of character from Hollinghurst’s Line of Beauty. Both have left home and moved to a society that they believe to be superior purely because of the financial status of their new contemporaries.
One of the contrasts between the two was the differing ways each Nick regarded their ‘sponsor’ into that world of wealth and excess. Hollinghurst’s Nick was perpetually grateful – indeed he fancied himself in love with his link person. Fitzgerald’s Nick had nothing but contempt for Daisy – his cousin. He frequently betrayed his filial ties – most notably when he accompanied her husband and his mistress on a jaunt.
While breaking Nick down; we discovered that we did not in fact trust his perspective. On the one hand; we can only see that world through his eyes, however he is clearly not an impartial observer. Though he sells himself as true and honest; his language is frequently designed to manipulate the reader into regarding a person from a particular viewpoint. The way that he describes characters demonstrates exactly how he feels about them. This is demonstrably the case with regards to the women in the book – who are either disregarded, disdained or destroyed in his descriptions of them.
One of the best lines of the whole discussion
” Nick is telling us his honest opinion.
It doesn’t mean that it isn’t bollix“
We spent quite a bit of time attempting to identify the villain of the piece. For some of us; Tom was the obvious suspect. After all, he is cruel to both his wife and lover. He never regards Gatsby’s affection for Daisy as a threat towards him and he was violent on more that one occasion.
Daisy was also a contender. An indifferent mother; she is only ever seen through Nick’s eyes – her motives are never clear to us. Does she ever actually love Gatsby? Does she love Tom? Is she stupid, weak and unaware, or devious, inconstant and calculating? What choices do we actually see her make?
Gatsby was one of the more favourably regarded characters. While we recognised that he was likely more in love with the idea of Daisy than the girl herself; we liked him despite that. He had worked hard to acquire his money (granted not in the most honest of endeavors) and seemed outside of the group – perhaps even more than Nick who was clearly emotionally invested. We agreed that he lacked self awareness – he kept an open house but was never known by his guests and ultimately none of his fancy friends cared enough about him to even attend his funeral. We almost all of us felt that his fathers view of him instantly transformed him into a more sympathetic character. Both Daisy and Gatsby could be seen as archtypes – defined only by other people and idolised (Gatsby by Nick and Daisy by Gatsby) – one of the only traits they actually had in common.
At this point we became briefly sidetracked. We had a sort of mini-chat about Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck) and wondered whether that would have provided us with a better insight into the America of the time. Ultimately, we agreed that while it was a fascinating book; it was as focused on one niche group as Gatsby was. It would have provided no more or less an accurate viewpoint purely by being fixated on a less prosperous group of people.
Then we segwayed into a discussion of the upcoming film of the book – starring such notables as Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey McGuire, Carey Mulligan and Isla Fisher. To be released next year; I’m hopeful that we’ll make it an LBC project and see it together!
At this point, I was fairly sure that the chat was about to diverge into more general reading topics, as it our wont, but nooooo. Next thing I know we’re back on track!
We briefly toyed with the idea that Tom wasn’t the father of Daisy’s child – that Gatsby had cuckoo-ed him. Then we disregarded it, fairly certain that Fitzgerald would have ensured that little nugget was explored in detail if it were the case.
One of the clubbers suggested that Tom and Daisy are in fact the perfect match. That neither of them were actually capable of loving another person; that the only love they could feel was for money. Together, they pooled huge resources, which would explain Tom’s confidence and Daisy’s inability to commit to Gatsby.
This naturally led to a bit of a discussion about the role of women during that time frame. Daisy – easily one of the wealthiest characters within the book – is powerless due to her gender. Her comment after the birth of her daughter ‘I hope she’s a fool’ suggests that she is far more astute than Nick credits her.
We followed that up by looking at the role of status within the novel. Even secondary and undeveloped characters are forced to compromise themselves to maintain or develop their status – most notably Jordan – who confesses to cheating – a move which totally alienates her from Nick.
As we concluded we briefly looked at whether or not Nick could have been gay. Gatsby was the only character that ever felt real, 3 dimensional. Nick may have had a sweetheart back home, but he was certainly fixated with Gatsby.
And then we were spent. Can you blame us?!?!
2 thoughts on “Book Club 8 – The Great Gatsby”
Ahh i love it!
'You always look cool'
The moment when she tells him she loves him by telling him that he always looks cool is one of the best 'saying what isn't being said' in literature. And when she cries because 'i've never seen such beautiful shirts before' BUT SHE'S NOT CRYING ABOUT THE SHIRTS!!!
I love this book. i love it. and agree with all your insights.
Have you read revolutionary road? like gatsby for the 1950s.
Wow that was quite a discussion! Seems like a book club I would want to join, if time would permit me. The Great Gatsby is not my favorite book, sadly. Although I do like a lot of ideas that it made me think about. It made me think of the unrealistic American Dream. I believe that Salinger wants us to think about the shallowness of the characters and even if you don’t publicly admit to being shallow, we are all shallow to some extent. In fact when foreigners visit America, one of the first things they notice is how superficial relationships are. What makes Gatsby great is not what he’s running after or the ill-means he uses to get it but rather that he is honest with himself.