Book Review: The Great Gatsby

This book is on every list of favorite books, and every list of the 100 books you must read before you die. Every high school student or first-year college student has read it. So, when I say I didn’t think much of it, I’m treading on tenuous frozen water.

First I’ll say what I did like about the book. The prose is excellent. Lots of wonderful descriptions. But that’s it. For example:

He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass.

But I didn’t like any of the characters. Gatsby had no sympathetic characteristics. In fact, so far as I could determine, he made his money as a crook. I don’t mind that, I wish it were brought out more. Nick is uninteresting, and Daisy is just a silly girl. there was no discernable story, and the dialogue was sprinkled with adverbs like fairy dust. For example:

Looked at me challengingly

He sat down gloomily

Nothing material happened until 80% of the way through the book. That’s when Myrtle Wilson was killed by being hit by Gatsby’s car, which was being driven by Daisy. Even at that point you have to read it twice to realize what happened. After that, Gatsby’s reaction was basically, oh, well, we hit her and killed her.

Even when Gatsby was shot there was little description of it. That section likewise had to be read more than once to realize what had happened. It was a great chance for some tension. But it was hidden, and the climactic scene of the whole story was nearly invisible.

Now, I understand that it’s a work of literary fiction, and that there are not going to be “action” scenes. But all that really happens is that Nick gets to know his neighbor, Gatsby, who has a big party every night. They run around carousing and having fun, and arguing amongst themselves. Yeah, there’s adultery, and an old love between Gatsby and another man’s wife that brings on a little tension, but it’s simply not enough. It’s largely kept as an undercurrent.

In other words, it’s boring.

I’m also aware of the symbolism. But who cares, other than Lit 101 students? Tell the story first, then worry about symbolism and social commentary.

This book reminds me of The Emperor’s New Clothes. Someone has to tell him he’s naked.

This book would never be published today.