Monthly Archives: December 2014

43. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

4672Nope.

There you go, my opinion of The Great Gatsby summed up in a single word. Or to expand: Did not like.

I wanted to like it, I’ve heard great things about it and I have one friend in particular who is so keen on the 1920’s that she’s theming her wedding after that time period so for her sake I moved Gatsby up the pecking order and tried to like it. But I didn’t.

I found the writing style very hard to get to grips with, I don’t know what was wrong with it exactly but I found that I could read for pages with no idea what was going on and then I’d go back and reread them only to have the same thing happen again. I think it didn’t help that the prose tended to jump about a bit characters would get the briefest of introductions but then fifty pages later you’d be expected to remember who they were and why they had featured (and the book is only 110 pages long). Or time would slip so that you’d be at once in the past and the present without any real clarity on why.

The characters themselves also really infuriated me. I suppose they were the Made in Chelsea of their time, lots of money with no clear indication of how they came by it and no responsibilities that can’t be shirked for a day or three of drinking and driving about the country on a whim. That entire lifestyle is alien territory to me and I find it utterly mystifying as to how anyone can live that way. So I probably never stood much of a chance at bonding with these characters but still.

Having said that our narrator Nick Carraway was also a bit of an outsider. Caught up by mere proximity to Gatsby and a connection with the Buchanans he is pulled along in their whirlwind of champagne and excess to the bitter end. I quite enjoy the outsider narrator theme as it gives the common yokel a point of reference within the book and someone to hide behind when it all gets a bit much so I did like Nick. Right up to the point where he suddenly realised that he’d forgotten all about his birthday on account of being taken to New York and forced to participate in wanton renting of hotel parlours and drinking of mint juleps. I mean really, who lives this way and why?!

There’s a jumpyness to the whole novel which reminded me a lot of On the Road another book I hated (rant here) and to a lesser extent The Secret History which I enjoyed but felt a similar disconnect to (more balanced review here). I think it was this nervous energy which meant that despite it being very short I found Gatsby quite exhausting to read and at entirely the other end of the spectrum from the previously reviewed Midnight’s Children. Here’s hoping my next review will be more positive!

I was meaning to make this a brief post and suggest that for more expansive reviewing you read a review by my fellow Gatsby-hater Becky but I seem to have gone on a while. However I thoroughly recommend her review as it is better thought out and much more entertaining than this driveling stream of consciousness. Read it here.

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100. Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie

Midnight's ChildrenThere’s a quote right at the end of Midnight’s Children which I think sums it up perfectly:

Padma cries, “Just tell what happened, mister! What is so surprising if a baby does not make conversations?”

These two sentences tell you all you need to know about this book really but I’ll expand slightly in the interest of creating a more lengthy post.

The narrator of Midnight’s Children is Saleem Sinai who was born at midnight on the day that India became an independent country. It takes quite some time (about a quarter of the book) for us to get round to this momentous birth as Saleem starts by going into great detail about his ancestors (which bored Padma to whom he is telling the story as well as me).

What follows is an in-depth analysis of Saleem’s life and times including his overblown interpretation of the most insignificant of events. Because of the historic moment of his birth Saleem feels responsible for the fate and life of India and added to that rather pompous view he also develops supernatural powers which link him to all the other children born between midnight and 1am that morning. There’s also a lot of metaphorical and philosophical type chat which is largely responsible for Padma’s (and my) frustration with the long-winded story-teller. As she says, it’s hardly surprising if a  baby isn’t particularly conversant but to Saleem, the (newborn) baby’s silence was a product of the time of it’s birth and indicative of the significant role it would play in the future of India.

I found a lot of this book hard to swallow as it made very little sense and was frankly ridiculous a lot of the time and I found Saleem’s views of his life to be arrogant and laughable although there was no real humour to be had.

Having said that the story was not unenjoyable and it did make for an…interesting read. I also enjoyed relating the latest crazy developments to my work colleagues.

So I remain confused about why Midnight’s Children is so highly lauded and I’m not sorry it’s over. Having said that I don’t want to put anyone off reading it, I gave it 3 stars on GoodReads because I didn’t dislike it as thoroughly as this review makes out but if you are going to read it then I want you to know what you’re letting yourself in for!