I first read 'The Great Gatsby' by F. Scott Fitzgerald over a gazillion years ago. I did love it. How could I not? Jay Gatsby was young, rich, powerful and mysterious. Girls adored him, men feared and envied him and his parties were the subject of dreams. At the tender age of 16, Fictional Gatsby was the prince I wished for my inner princess.
Forward a few light years into the future and here I was again this weekend wiping away the cobwebs, fluffing out the pages of this most memorable and loved book of my teens. Settling down into the sofa I began to read the first page. If I am to be honest with myself it all felt different right from the start. Had I even picked up the right book? I remembered this as a romance novel, was my memory failing? The initial disturbance over, I sailed through the pages but the nagging feeling would not go away. It dawned on me later what it was that was irking me; Dammit I thought, I had succumbed to age. My trusted old friend was confirming I had grown up! How? I could now see beyond the love story.
I have always been an advocate of revisiting old books and feel in a sense the experience is like meeting up with old friends. You will try to visit ones you've missed and will avoid those you never particularly liked. Old friends ground you, they remind you where you started and how far you've traveled. Personally, it is a relief, even a good thing, to know that old friends carry pieces of me with them. Floating memories of a self that I will never re-live again but will be immortal in those who have known me.
Back to The Great Gatsby, I realized the story was as beautiful as I remembered, the characters fascinating, and the writing sublime but the person holding the book was the tangent that had changed. I was no longer 16 no matter how young I tell myself I feel inside, and whether I like it or not, time works its magic on the best of us. Youth is a melodramatic magical wondrous state that is sadly only appreciated by those who have lost it and yet for those few hours visiting with my 'Gatsby', with Daisy, Tom and Nick I smiled fondly remembering a younger version of myself who had wept at how romantic Gatsby was and burned with fury at how self-righteous and boring Nick was. All that while being frowned upon by the new 'me' who could see through the shallowness, the superficial beauty, the social malaise and the sinister ugliness that seemed to pervade the entire novel. This is a story that to my eyes now is more about shattered dreams, perseverance, honesty, decency, and eventually the meaning of true friendship. The romance was gone!
Thankfully a few things remain unchanged and that is the lyrical beauty of the words that make up this novel. The first and last paragraphs still hold a firm power over my heart and one could do worse with one's time than simply to re-live them for a few hours on a quiet Sunday afternoon.
The Great Gatsby starring Leonardo diCaprio, Tobey Maguire & Carey Mulligan is out this Christmas. See trailer HERE.