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The mystery and mysteries of Gatsby

Friday, 31 August, 2018

Why is The Great Gatsby great? Why do some people never tire of re-reading it, no matter how many times they’ve read it already? The answer is that it’s the kind of book that nurtures you as you turn each page, and with each page, one is struck by something new, and this discovery creates a virtuous chain of reactions involving memory and pleasure and poignancy. How did the young Fitzgerald capture and record so memorably the mysteries of life? In pursuit of that mystery, one must keep reading and re-reading the novel.

“The track curved and now it was going away from the sun, which as it sank lower, seemed to spread itself in benediction over the vanishing city where she had drawn her breath. He stretched out his hand desperately as if to snatch only a wisp of air, to save a fragment of the spot that she had made lovely for him. But it was all going by too fast now for his blurred eyes and he knew that he had lost that part of it, the freshest and the best, forever.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Let’s leave the last word to the late, lamented Christopher Hitchens, who read Gatsby closely and critically and admiringly:

Fitzgerald’s work captures the evaporating memory of the American Eden while connecting it to the advent of the New World of smartness and thuggery and corruption. It was his rite of passage; it is our bridge to the time before “dreams” were slogans. He wanted to call it Among the Ashheaps and Millionaires — thank heaven that his editor, Maxwell Perkins, talked him out of it. It was nearly entitled just plain Gatsby. It remains “the great” because it confronts the defeat of youth and beauty and idealism, and finds the defeat unbearable, and then turns to face the defeat unflinchingly. With The Great Gatsby, American letters grew up.

That’s the annual re-reading done. Until next August, then, God willing.


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