Monday, March 17, 2008

A GOOD READ with Angie

This month’s books were about as different as you could find, apart from the context- both were set in the US. I decided to re-read “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Paperback: 10.10) after a gap of some 25 years. I dug out my old battered student copy and fondly recalled the book that launched me into reading everything Fitzgerald ever wrote. The passage of time is fascinating, as looking back at the sections I had asterisked in the early eighties, I would now highlight very different aspects of the story.

Set in the heady inter-war years of the twenties in booming East Coast America, Fitzgerald’s central character is a sort of anti-hero. We view Jay Gatsby from the perspective of his poorer neighbour Nick, who is the average middle class graduate trying to make his way in New York. This deceptively slim book is almost a novella, and Fitzgerald’s economy of style belies one of the most fascinating characterisations I have ever encountered. Gatsby is at once alluring and sinister, sophisticated and gauche, hedonist and aesthete. As the story unfolds and we learn of his past and the sources of his great wealth, the book is like a jigsaw puzzle that the reader simply wants more and more pieces of. The other characters are also well depicted by the author, but all become inevitable stars revolving around Gatsby’s planetary magnetism and we tend to read them all as they tell us more about him.

The novel is evocative of a beautiful and fascinating era in US history and in a sense typifies how “the American dream” has been viewed through the lens of material success. In this sense however it is a salutary tale of how wealth does not bring happiness and as someone I lent it to summed it up: “It’s really about loving someone who can’t love you back”. I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting this old gem and would highly recommend it.

“The Road” by Cormac McCarthy (Paperback: Picador: 10.00) is like the antithesis of Gatsby, being set in an almost empty, post-apocalyptic world where a father and son are struggling to survive against all the odds. The vividness of McCarthy’s imagery is haunting and his simple, stark style is perfectly suited to the reduced environment he is portraying. Although the context of the novel is one of unwonted desolation, this is not a moribund novel. Father and son progress ever onwards in a wreck of civilisation, and his descriptions of the absence of things, such as colour, animals, even the stars actually make you look at your own environment in a new and appreciative way.

I don’t think the author is being preachy or political in this sense, he merely envisages and articulates a world that lacks so many of the things that we all take for granted. In the midst of all this bleakness the one thing that has endured is the father’s deep, almost primeval love for his son and his determination that he should survive. The dialogue between the two is intense and moving and the structure of the story keeps you interested throughout. It is easy to see why it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction last year, as it is a novel which succeeds at lots of levels. I would quite happily have sat down and read it in one go had time permitted, that’s how gripping it was.

Enjoy your reading and remember if anyone has a book they want to tell the rest of us about e-mail your views into the Bugle- there are so many good reads out there and so little time to get to them all! As usual the books are available from Janet in the Blessington Book Store.

Angie Thompson

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