The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Charles Scribner's Sons
Australian director Baz Luhrmann is at the helm of a remake of The Great Gatsby starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire, and it could not have come at a more appropriate time. As the US economy struggles to recover from a series of economic blows, the glimmering shield of the 'American Dream' looks more dented than ever - or its battered state at least bears similarity to how it was envisioned by author F. Scott Fitzgerald when his masterpiece was published in 1925.
Set in Prohibition-era New York City and its Long Island mansion-laden suburbia, The Great Gatsby offers a deft critique of America's defining economic narrative, contrasting the superficial world of newly minted high society with the more prevalent underclass represented by Fitzgerald's evocative 'valley of ashes'. Here we have a love story, a mystery, and, ultimately, a tragedy set within the bounds of what was supposed to be a beacon of optimism: post-war New York in the 1920s, when Wall Street was kicking into full tilt, unaware of the disaster that awaited its eager traders at the decade's end.
Jay Gatsby is a shadowy but gloriously rich resident of 'West Egg', a partly fictional seaside suburb of Long Island. The book's protagonist, Nick Carraway, a 29-year-old bonds trader who lives next door, gets to know Gatsby at one of the enigmatic man's lavish house parties. He notices that Gatsby spends a great deal of time standing in the moonlight in front of his house, peering across the bay.
That's because Gatsby is in love with Daisy Buchanan, a flame from the past who has since married Tom Buchanan, a former football star who has gone on to be fabulously rich and has set up home in the more prestigious 'East Egg'. The Buchanans are friends with Miss Jordan Baker, a golf star who strikes up a romance with our narrator, Nick. The idyllic world of money is quickly torn asunder when the reader learns that Tom is having an affair with the wife of a mechanic, whose workshop sits beside the valley of ashes (where dark things happen). Daisy knows and isn't happy about the affair, and so proves pliable when Gatsby conspires to re-enter her life. The book then follows the twisted romances as they unravel in grotesque fashion, leading to a tragic ending that emphasises the inadequacies of wealth in securing happiness, companionship, and even simple friendship.
The cynical and crisply written tale was never famous during Fitzgerald's lifetime and he died at age 44 in 1940, thinking himself a failure. The Great Gatsby wasn't recognised as a master work until years later. The fact that director Lurhmann is working on the sixth movie version speaks to its longevity and contemporary relevance.