Book of a lifetime: The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

From The Independent archive: a love story, an American fable and an echo chamber of the 20th century. Whenever Alan Glynn revisits this extraordinary study of the power of illusion, dreams are deconstructed

Saturday 18 November 2023 06:30 GMT
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A studio portrait of F Scott Fitzgerald from 1925
A studio portrait of F Scott Fitzgerald from 1925 (Getty)

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald is one of those rare books that shouldn’t ever be adapted for the screen. Seriously. But it keeps happening. In 2013, Baz Luhrmann made a version of it in 3D with Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan. It took me 35 years to shake Robert Redford and Mia Farrow out of my head, and then I had to contend with those two. It’s not fair.

And it’s Daisy, more than Gatsby, that’s the problem. To cast her, to objectify her, is straightaway to diminish her impact as a character. I felt the same way about Anjelica Huston’s Gretta Conroy in The Dead. Because however many dimensions you manage to pack up there on the screen, you’ll only really be getting one. On the page, by contrast, in astonishingly beautiful, layered prose, what Scott Fitzgerald manages to do is to replicate some of the mystery of what it is to be human, and that can only properly be experienced inside your head.

Published in 1925, The Great Gatsby, a “consciously artistic achievement”, is a study of the power of illusion. It’s a deconstruction of our dreams – of romance, of identity, even of consciousness. It’s a love story, an American fable and an echo chamber of the 20th century. For these reasons it is also one of those rare books that you can read at different times in your life, and each time it’ll do something different to you.

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