Charlotte’s Favourite Book

Charlotte and I have an impressive friendship. We went to school together, went to university together and lived together. I even visited her on her year abroad at the University of Arizona. Nowadays we don’t see nearly enough of each other, based as we are in vastly different counties. It was on an accidental trip home this summer that we got the opportunity to lounge in the sun in Horsham park, a hobby not indulged in since approximately 2008, and discuss life, the universe and everything. And this blog.

“So what’s your favourite book, Charlotte?”
The Great Gatsby

What an easy blog entry for me, no reading required! To put some background on it, I graduated English and American Literature and Charlotte graduated American Studies, so we were both pretty well acquainted with the novel in question.

I don’t need to tell you all of the things we mutually adored about The Great Gatsby, there are plenty of sources from which to draw positive gushing on the subject. Instead, by way of good review, I’ll tell you this – Charlotte read it based on its reputation and then deliberately chose classes that had it on their reading lists for the rest of her university career. I did the same thing but in reverse, reading it originally as course reading, although it became the only extracurricular book I returned to whilst studying. I must admit this may be due to its length. A re-reading of The Great Gatsby set me back by a few hours, most other things I was made to read would have set me back by days or even weeks. But that’s not to play down its wonder.

Charlotte’s love for the book is evident, and even the most weird and obscure questions I throw at her are given confident and considered answers. Our only significant area of uncertainty was on Nick Carraway, the narrator, with neither of us really able to unpick his motivations and whether he is swept along by Gatsby or actively participant in climbing the social ladder. This remained unresolved.

On the subject of character motivations, her adoration for the novel really shone when I asked her for her favourite character.

“Gatsby. Definitely Gatsby”

The complexity and yet simultaneous feeling on an elusive underpinning simplicity to this character seem to be the main things that keep Charlotte returning to West Egg time and time again. Gatsby’s words and actions make so much and yet so little sense whichever way you interpret him. Hopeless romantic, fraud and charlatan, social paragon, any of these offers insight and difficulty. Here Charlotte rather outdid me by informing me that this is the charm to all of Fitzgerald’s writing, of which I confess I have read none other than the story of Gatsby himself.

Any discussion of this book would be incomplete without touching on the recent Baz Luhrmann film, and here we deviated from out mutual delight at the words of Fitzgerald to give decidedly mixed reviews of the pictures of Luhrmann. It all comes down to expectation, I suppose. I expected to hate the movie and found it surprisingly good, impressively true to the book and excellent in its realisation of 1920s excess. In this respect, I think it did a good job of capitalising in the one thing film can offer that the book can’t; crass, flashy visuals, and it suited the story down to the ground. Charlotte, however, went in a fan of the Luhrmann canon and a Fitzgerald obsessive, expecting this pairing to provide her with endless joy. Alas, she found the film to be an adequate-but-nothing-special adaptation. However, in my opinion, to take a diehard fan of the novel and produce a film she judges as “not bad” is still a raving success.

This entry could have been an awful lot longer, but it doesn’t need to be. We both adore Gatsby for the reason everyone else does: it was written in 1925 but still has all of the readability, page-turning intrigue and literary brilliance to make it relevant and exciting no matter when you read it. The Great Gatsby should be compulsory reading for all people.

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