F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel of the Jazz Age hit a milestone birthday- 95!- meaning that it fell into the public domain at the end of 2020. One of the podcasts I listen to, Planet Money, used that milestone as a reason to release a podcast episode that was an audiobook of the novel, as read by its hosts. Its been years since I last read The Great Gatsby, and in that interim I’ve read Ernest Hemingway’s non-fiction account of his time in Paris in the 1920s, A Moveable Feast, and watched Midnight in Paris and the Hollywood film adaptation of The Great Gatsby. I was ready to listen!
And then I was disappointed. I know that the novel is about the shallowness of capitalism and materiality, and that the characters are both stand ins for larger concepts and caught by the circumstances of their time. I know that, and I was still disappointed and frustrated by what felt like the shallowness and unlikability of the main characters. Listening as an audiobook gave me a good refresh on plot, but I missed the other things that I think a slow physical-book-in-hand re-read would give me.
Is Daisy actually vapid and spineless, or is she a woman in the 1920s with no ability to make money of her own, and trying to find happiness in various vices that provide momentary relief from her cheating bore of a husband? Is Jay the inspiration for Don Draper, trying to reinvent himself in a version that gives life meaning? Is a generation of society ready for instant gratification, living for the next wild party with its free-flowing booze, discordant music and extravagant outfits, as a reaction to the horrible, tragic 1910s, which brought a devastating war and flu pandemic, with no promise of tomorrow? I’ll let you know on my next reread, paper copy in hand.