F. Scott Fitzgerald, ‘The Great Gatsby’

I didn’t really get on with ‘The Great Gatsby’. I found it very depressing. Reading it immediately after ‘Brideshead Revisited’ probably didn’t help much (not a deliberate choice, just that I’d left ‘Brideshead’ at home by accident and ‘Gatsby’ was the next unread thing on my iPad). Going from the charm of the Flytes to the singular lack of charm exhibited by just about every character in ‘The Great Gatsby’ was a bit like stepping from a warm cafe playing Mozart and smelling of fudge into a force nine gale hurling sleet in your face.

It may have been a form of culture shock. Even though it’s distanced from me in time, the England of the twenties, thirties and forties is still familiar. Nineteen-twenties America is a world which revolves around assumptions I don’t make and experiences I haven’t had. Gatsby’s story is about class in America, and it’s all rather alien to me.

Maybe I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind, but all the characters seemed to irritate me. Nick irritated me by disapproving of Gatsby, Gatsby irritated me by being pathetic about Daisy, Tom irritated me by being a racist misogynistic bastard (OK, I do realise that Tom is probably not meant to be a sympathetic character) and Daisy irritated me just by being Daisy. Once I get irritated by characters I find it hard to care what happens to them, and once I don’t care what happens to the characters a novel loses much of its appeal. It’s a pity, because the writing is lyrical and evocative and I can see why it’s a much-lauded book.

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