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Monday, 3 June 2013

The Great Gatsby

Well, so much for my grand announcement to post something everyday. I've been wanting to post for a week now, but this is an auspicious season, and I've been attending a number of family functions, besides attending music classes, an Art of Living course (which was amazing) and having my little cousin over, so this post was sadly delayed.

The Talisman Ring was an enjoyable read. I think Heyer is good for a light, pleasant, humorous read. I like her style of writing and her language, and am looking forward to reading more of her books.

The next book I read was The Great Gatsby. I've had the book for a few years, and the Baz Luhrmann movie spurred me to finally read it (although I haven't seen the movie yet). I have to confess that the book went largely over my head, although I think I understood the themes well enough. I think I would have to read the book another time to fully grasp it. So I may possibly say things that are utterly obvious or completely wrong.

My opinion on the characters and my sympathies are mixed. I'm not sure to what extent I liked whom. I know I didn't like Tom at all, and I also came to dislike Daisy towards the end. I liked Jordan Baker. I'm not sure about Nick Carraway; he seemed decent enough, but he seems a bit - taken in? - by Gatsby, and he behaves abominably to Jordan Baker after the clash between Tom and Gatsby.

When it comes to Gatsby himself, I think he is charismatic and magnetic. His devotion to Daisy is in a way touching, but also seems delusional, and a waste of his enormous talent (that he uses it solely to find and please Daisy). He gives these fantastic, showy, extravagant parties, and then, when he finds that Daisy doesn't like them, he stops completely. I also think that it would have been easier to be sympathetic towards Gatsby if he'd come about his wealth in an honest manner. Nick constantly skirts the issue, but the means Gatsby  uses to become wealthy seems to taint Gatsby's love (atleast for me), make it more of an obsession, something dangerous (he will do anything for her or to reach her). He loves an idea of Daisy, an impression of a lovely time in his past that he simply cannot let go of and tries his hardest to bring back. And yet, he comes across to the reader as a much better man than Tom, who is violent with Myrtle, and who is hypocritically aghast at Daisy's affair although he has one of his own.

I did not like Daisy. In the end, she doesn't seem worth so much devotion. She is cowardly (or careless and reckless) enough to let Gatsby take the blame for the accident. And when he does so without complaint, after he dies, there is not so much as an acknowledgement from her. I find Jordan Baker far more admirable (despite her being dishonest and a liar) because she knows her own mind, and I get the feeling that she would not have behaved like Daisy were she in Daisy's position.

I feel somewhat doubtful about the objectivity of Nick Carraway as a narrator. As a reader, you can't be sure about what he glosses over, what he emphasizes, what he know, however, for a fact, that he mostly ignores how Gatsby came across his wealth, that he is fastidious, and unable to take any sort of blemishes on situations or characters he has idealized or formed an idea of (symbolized by his wiping off the dirty word that someone has written on Gatsby's doorstep at the end of the book).

I shan't talk about the themes, because whatever I have to say has probably already been said. I also didn't understand the book well enough to come up with any new inputs.

I understand that Fitzgerald made the description of the accident graphic to create a certain impact, but I still didn't like it. It almost put me off my food for a few days.

On a side note, can anybody explain to me why it is that most so-called 'great' novels have to be depressing, tragically ending, and/or somehow dispirited, devoid of hope in life, and convinced that humans are a species for which there is no hope? Do books have to be cynical to be considered of literary merit? I read The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (for IB English Literature) and absolutely hated it. I'm sorry if anyone reading this has a different opinion and is offended. She does write well, but I didn't enjoy the book at all. I do not like any book that makes me feel that life is not worth living, and it seems to me that all the 'great'  works I've read in the past two years have left me feeling this way. To me, a great book is one that inspires you to live happily or in a principled, strong manner no matter what, or that makes you think in a way that develops your knowledge or understanding. Perhaps I am being simplistic, and I am not in the least suited to 'literature'; in that case, so be it. In the particular case of The God of Small Things, it seemed to me that so many tragic things could not possibly happen to one family or in one story. It seems to me, that even just one of the many 'bad' things that happen in this story would be a strong enough focal point to base a book on. Also, she simply bashes you on the head with a number of issues and themes, from love to politics to caste-ism to abuse. It just left me feeling heavy and wishing that I had never read the book. The Booker Prize did not convince me otherwise. I also felt that if even one of the characters had survived these ordeals in a healthy manner, I might have been able to tolerate the book. As it was, I felt as if something ugly and nightmarish had been imprinted on my brain. I do not have the attitude that ignoring ugly things makes them disappear. But I also do not have the attitude that focusing solely on ugly things would somehow solve problems.