The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
A relative latecomer to this one, I enjoyed it from start to finish. The prose is witty and the chapters never outstay their welcome. The novel itself is only short and you may find that you have read it in a couple of hours. The narrator is rather bland which allows the reader to marvel at the array of quirky and luminescent characters that surround him.
The amazing thing about this book is its foresight. It was published 3 years before the Wall Street Crash, the signs of which were missed by almost everybody who could have prevented it. If we track the life of Gatsby, from pauper to nouveaux rich, right through to his eventual downfall, the story reads like a premonition of the event. Gatsby initially represents the dream many Americans had in the early 20s: to be rich quick selling bonds, dealing essentially in money that had no physical existence. Gatsby’s dream is embodied by his infatuation with Daisy, who he was initially discarded by, due partially to his relative poverty. As Gatsby re-appears on the scene filthy rich and mysterious, akin to some reincarnated Edmond Dantes, the rumours fly among the well-to-do families in the area and his mansion is soon host to extravagant parties populated by the rich and famous.
As Gatsby’s dream crumbles, indicative of the crash itself, he becomes aware that it requires more than a bag of money to penetrate high society. Across the bay, Tom – a rich snob presented as the antithesis of Gatsby – remains wildly jealous of his wife Daisy, whilst he carries on his own affair. This is where the ‘bubble bursts’ for Gatsby. Despite the high attendances at his parties, he is loved by very few, a fact that becomes painfully obvious at the end of the novel. We also begin to have doubts about the legality of the funds Gatsby possesses.
The protagonist’s dealings in his place of work are rarely described and when, at the end of the novel, he leaves West Egg, he does so disillusioned and heavy hearted yet free from the corruption that clings to the other characters.
The main aspect of this book that I find enjoyable is its pacing. Pleasantly languid and interspersed with witticisms, you feel like you could be attending one of these dinner parties, sat daydreaming in a corner with a martini.
Overall this is a clever light read that I would recommend to anyone. It is also a story that has a lot of potency today, given the economic climate. In some ways, however it is a condenmation of the man with a dream, a sentiment that is summed up perfectly in my favourite line of the book.
‘For a while these reveries provided an outlet for his imagination; they were a satisfactory hint of the unreality of reality, a promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy’s wing.’
As the weight of the rock eventually crushes the wing, so ends Gatsby’s dream and the little light across the bay is extinguished.
1Q84 books 1 & 2 by Haruki Murakami
I’ve been a Murakami fan since my first year at university. I was trawling through book after book of clearly defined Thriller, Crime, Horror shamelessly adhering to archaic conventions set down decades ago. The newest addition to these being the, almost guaranteed amusingly front-covered, Supernatural Romance. I’m sure you can guess the bandwagon these guys are clinging on to.
Finally, I came to a book with pure white cover featuring a picture if a kitten. The name, Kafka on the Shore was bizarre enough to interest me so I flipped over the book and read the synopsis. It was totally different to any synopsis I had read before, seeming part screwball comedy, part magic realism. I read it in a couple of days and was scouring books shops looking for anything else by this author. As luck would have it he had a head start on me and had already written a host of novels, all of which I have now read.
His most recent novel 1Q84 has been released in two stages. Books 1 and 2 having come out a week before book 3. I’ve read the first two books and thought I’d write a few words about them.
Some are calling this Murakami’s Magnum Opus. I would disagree with them.
The story is quite nicely set up and starts to flow well. I’ve never been a fan of the alternating perspective of storytelling, a technique that George R R Martin stretches to the limits of usefulness. It feels like a padding technique. Tengo in a lot of ways is the archetypal Murakami protagonist. A 30 year old misanthrope, detached from the workings of society, without a real job, without a real relationship, not really knowing the destination he wants to take in his life. What’s different about Tengo is that he seems a lot more selfish than the usual type of protagonist employed. I won’t go into the details for fear of spoiling the story. The other protagonist, Aomame, well…it took me a while to find her bearable. Her motivations for doing what she does seem a little weak (the lady she works for never went to such extremes herself), the whole face distortion thing is bizarre and overused, and she seems overly fascinated with her breasts. Talking of which, the whole novel sometimes seems to veer towards the perverted. I’m aware that sex plays a large role in Murakami’s novels, and I think in most of his novels it is justified in its contribution to the story. It was blatantly obvious that Tengo was going to sleep with one of the characters from the word go, the pretext for which is just silly.
Depsite all this, I am still eager to discover what is going to happen. Books 1 & 2 are in no way complete stories. As stand-alone novels, they offer little. I would suggest, if you wish to save a little cash, waiting for a UK set that combines the three. There are even rumours of a 4th on the horizon.
In terms of the storyline, I can divulge very little without spoiling the plot. The setting is for the story is central Tokyo (many of the places mentioned are a stones throw away from where I am based :-)) and so far it has stayed there, meaning little variety of setting. You will find certain elements of the story familiar, although the supporting cast are not as loveable and quirky as you might be expecting, Tamaru being the exception for me. I imagine it’s the type of story where everything comes together in the final instalment. I’ll let you know when I read it.
An Evening of Long Goodbyes by Paul Maurray
The caption above is quite fitting for this particular book. Whilst this is possibly one of the most densely packed books I have ever read, and on occasion I found myself glancing to the bottom of the page to check I was actually making progress, it is also one of the more enjoyable novels I have read. Part drama, comedy and tragedy, highlighting the thin film that separates the classes, the book kept me engaged throughout.
Skippy Dies, the other work available from this author, was consistently enjoyable throughout, despite sharing a harrowing word count akin to AEOLG. There were a few elements that I couldn’t get along with. The drug dealer side-plot bordered on the ridiculous and the priest torn by temptation dragged a little.
An Evening of Long Goodbyes feels more natural and believable, although it is possibly less accessible to the casual reader as very little physically happens for such a long book. Try to think of Kazuou Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day, but from the employers point of view. Most of the humour comes from the ‘fish out of water’ scenario when young Charles decides to leave his sheltered life and ‘slum it up’ as it were with Frank, a character, whose transformation from foreboding ‘Golem’ to affable rogue and de facto hero of the story is remarkably well done.
So It seems with Murray that we must accept this Dichotomy of exceptional length of story that tends to drag a little set off against engaging prose, fun characters and genuine sentimentality that is always subtly written.
I encourage anyone to give this author a go.