The ‘Great’ Gatsby


The Great Gatsby. Courtesy Warner Bros 2013

“Reserving judgements is a matter of infinite hope”  F. Scott Fitzgerald declares in The Great Gatsby.

I read Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel, often revered as one of the greatest works of American literature, about two years ago. Full of reserved judgement and excitement at what fellow readers had promised was a masterpiece evoking a splendidly lavish era, I delved in.


Then became thankful it was such a short novel. I was underwhelmed. Was it the sinister undertones that unnerved me, irritating lead female Daisy that repulsed me, or the feeling that it felt like a  non-story? I don’t know. I suspect it’s more to do with the hype that surrounds ‘classic’ books. Everything you’ve read/heard about them ends up infiltrating your own judgement. Your pre-conceived notions of what a book is about can really affect your enjoyment of it. Last year I attempted to re-read Jane Eyre for the first time since school, but could only manage half the book, despite the great story and protagonist, simply because I knew what happened.

(I am also that person that thought The Talented Mr Ripley was a comedic story about an impersonator. It was only when Ripley violently bashed Dickie’s head in with the oar of a boat that, in a state of shock, I realised I’d totally misjudged the plot.)

That’s where TV and film adaptations sometimes ruin the experience of a story, which was originally intended to be read not watched (as well as your own misconceptions of course). Why read the book/watch the film if you know what happens? It’s an interesting debate – book v film. Can you enjoy both equally?

Well, a few of us from Bee’s Bookshare put it to the test by going to see Baz Lurhmann’s new film Gatsby inspired by the novel at the wonderful Carlton Cinema in Westgate (unbelievable value at just £2.50 week days / £3.50 at weekends, with new digital screens, sound and very comfortable seats with plenty of leg room). Many sharers had, unlike me, enjoyed the novel, for some it was listed in their top ever reads.


Described by Warner Bros as “following Fitzgerald-like”, I was hoping that the film would unlock something in the story that would change my mind.

In case you don’t know the story… aspiring bond salesman Nick Carraway moves to Long Island to make his name in the New York banking word. He lives next door to the mysterious and absurdly rich Jay Gatsby, who hosts lavish decadent parties. One day he’s invited to one of the parties, and Gatsby who is hardly ever seen, befriends him. It turns out Gatsby was a past lover of Nick’s cousin Daisy. But beautiful Daisy is married to Tom, who unlike Gatsby inherited his millions. The plot follows Gatsby’s attempts to win Daisy back, which he mistakenly assumes can be bought through his new wealth, and which results in devastating consequences.

Lurhmann’s penchant for fast-moving, hyper-real vibrant cinematography (Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge) is at its height in Gatsby. The only way I can describe the film is that it’s like riding a roller coaster – it exhilarates you, whizzes you around, assaults your senses, then once your stomach is in your mouth, pummels you into a vertical drop and your stomach is flung quickly to your feet.

The Great Gatsby. Courtesy Warner Bros 2013

The Great Gatsby. Courtesy Warner Bros 2013
“I was within and without. Simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

The acting is superb, with a brilliant cast – Leonardo di Caprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Isla Fisher and Joel Edgerton. The music is pretty dubious (was it really necessary to blare out Alicia Keys’s New York as they drove over the Brooklyn Bridge?) but it all adds to the exhilaration of the first half of the film.

It was a really enjoyable evening, and I liked the film in a 3 out of 5 kind of way. But if I was looking for it to inspire me to re-read the novel I was disappointed and again underwhelmed with the story. The sinister and chilling undertones were definitely masterfully conveyed by the gorgeous di Caprio, who encapsulated everything you’d expect Gatsby to be – dapper and dandy, child-like in his belief money buys anything, and an obsessive loner.

And maybe that’s why I can’t get on with the novel… at book share we often say that if you don’t believe in/like/are intrigued by the main characters in a book you don’t tend to enjoy the story. And Gatsby disappoints me, because his greed and superficiality is masked by his supposed love for Daisy.

But I guess that’s the point isn’t it – it’s a comment on the perils of ‘the American Dream’, on man’s seemingly endless greed, inherited or not, and what lengths people will go to to keep themselves rich. The concept repulses me. But I’m still thinking about it a week later, which shows that the story isn’t forgettable, even if you don’t come under its spell.

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter–tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…” … and reach out to grab another book!

Gatsby didn’t cause me to ponder too much on the book v film debate as I didn’t love one nor the other, it was just a classic case of when the hype becomes the story.

Gatsby quote. Courtesy

Gatsby quote. Courtesy

Book v film

Book first film second, vice versa, never, or both?

Tell us what you think at #beesbookshare

What our book sharers thought of Gatsby
“Watching The Great Gatsby is like being force fed candy floss and then being made to ride the dodgems for two hours but being allowed to stop every now and then for someone to throw fridge magnet poetry at you.” Nick

See The Great Gatsby discussion on Goodreads >


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