Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Great Gatsby

It's been years since I've read The Great Gatsby but it made such a strong impression on me at the time that it continues to haunt me in some ways. With a new feature film based on the novel about to open, there has been a renewed discussion of the book. And, inevitably, in any such discussion of a widely acknowledged classic, there will be some who claim to have discovered that the emperor has no clothes. In The Globe and Mail, books editor Jared Bland posted this article:

Why F. Scott Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby is anything but great

I wrote the following in response, but since I don't anticipate that the Globe and Mail will publish this in the Letters to the Editor section, I decided to post it here as well:

Jared Bland’s claim that the “emptiness” in the style of The Great Gatsby makes it a bad book is exactly wrong. The passage that he chooses to illustrate his argument is, in fact, a perfect example of how Fitzgerald captures the maddeningly elusive texture of a life that has been founded on delusion and falsehood. Practically every image defeats the reader’s normal expectation of establishing a concrete picture of the world being described, giving us the vertiginous sensation of directly experiencing Gatsby’s existential nullity. I am reminded of those who have criticized the film Citizen Kane, claiming to have discovered something “hollow at its core.” What is hollow at the core of that film is Kane himself; what is hollow at the core of Fitzgerald’s novel is Gatsby, and both have become classics because they so perfectly capture what is hollow at the core of the American Dream.