Friday 17 January 2020

Roslyn Dee: 'Let us share Gatsby's gift of hope in the new twenties'

 

'If ever there was a lesson to be learned about the emptiness that results from desiring money for money’s sake, then that lesson is writ large in the story of Gatsby himself.' Stock image
'If ever there was a lesson to be learned about the emptiness that results from desiring money for money’s sake, then that lesson is writ large in the story of Gatsby himself.' Stock image

Roslyn Dee

A few days ago I read 'The Great Gatsby'. Not for the first time. Not even for the 20th time.

For this is a book that, for decades now, I always re-read every summer, as I did, once again this year, when I was in Greece. It's my personal literary obsession.

How much of an obsession? Well, I have 26 different editions of F Scott Fitzgerald's third novel residing side by side on my bookshelves. Among that number are two different Italian editions, plus one in French, one in Greek and another in Chinese, all of those 'foreign language' editions purchased when I found myself in the countries in question.

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So yes, it's that much of an obsession.

But it was its relevance in this particular week of the year which prompted me to reach for the book again earlier this week.

For, as we head into 2020 with a whole new twenties decade lying ahead of us, is there any novel that better captures the spirit of that same decade, exactly a century ago, than 'The Great Gatsby'?

It's a snapshot of a society on the skite. Of the boom before the bust. It's a picture of greed and glamour. And of a generation in thrall to the false god of filthy lucre, living only for the moment and for themselves. "Careless people," as Nick Carraway, the book's narrator, describes his cousin, Daisy, and her oaf of a husband, the loud, rich, bacchanalian Tom Buchanan.

We've been there too, of course. Back in the noughties, when we had our own 'The Great Gatsby' years right here in Ireland.

Just ponder this scene for a moment… "The cars are parked five deep in the drive, and the bar is in full swing. Floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside until the air is alive with chatter and laughter, with introductions forgotten on the spot, and enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other's names."

Where are we? At an indulgent hooley on a hot summer's night at a garden party in Dublin 4? At a bash in the west to mark a spectacular fleecing in a property deal? Or at a pre-wedding party, perhaps, before the bride and groom to be jet off to tie the knot on the Amalfi coast or some other such ritzy destination, in the company of dozens of their 'best friends'?

No. None of those. Welcome, rather, in the scene depicted above, to New York in the summer of 1922. Welcome, indeed, in the words of F Scott Fitzgerald, to Long Island Sound and to the home of Jay Gatsby.

And if ever there was a lesson to be learned about the emptiness that results from desiring money for money's sake, then that lesson is writ large in the story of Gatsby himself.

What makes 'The Great Gatsby' 'great' for me, however - apart from the beautiful writing and its spot-on exploration of the destructiveness of excess and the fugitive nature of joy - is that while Jay Gatsby is essentially a fraud, he is, nonetheless, a fraud who genuinely believes in loyalty and love.

And also in something else of great value - hope. Right to the end he retains it, what Fitzgerald describes as Gatsby's "extraordinary gift for hope".

And what better a gift than that? For hope, as described by no less than Aristotle, is "a waking dream".

So as we head this week into our own not-so-roaring twenties, at a time when, despite the so-called 'lift' in our economy, so many problems still loom large for so many people, let's dare then, like Jay Gatsby, to hope. And to dream. For better times for all.

Irish Independent

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