Sunday, 30 June 2013

Sunday Morning Musing: Boredom or Books?

Love this. It reminds me of the quote that 'boredom denotes a lack of inner resources'  It's so true. Just because there's no external resources around to use up our time, doesn't mean there's 'nothing' to do. There's our mind, ever-waiting, ever-eager to try new things, to learn new things, to indulge itself in the food of the printed word: i.e. reading. 

Yes, how can boredom exist when there are books around?! Books kick boredom's ass.  All you need do is open one and behold a new world. As simple as that. 

So next time you hear someone complaining they're 'bored', you know what to tell them (or better still, give them).

~ Siobhán

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

June Bloom: The Language & Love of Flowers

'More than anything, I must have flowers, always and always.' ~ Claude Monet

June is the month of big colourful blooms. And being a flower lover, I just have to have a say on them here.

I love flowers so much.  As Monet said, I must have them! (He cites flowers as one of the main reasons he became an artist). They lift the spirits like nothing else - 'flowers feed the soul.' They are a constant reminder of beauty and more than that, a sublime everyday presence in our world. I can't be without them! In the garden, in a vase, in a picture (in agreement with Vita-Sackville West - 'a flowerless room is a soulless room.'). Even the mere thought of them is enough of a reminder that beauty exists and is in surplus supply all around us.
It's not just artists that have a profound love for flowers, but poets and writers too. As writer Iris Murdoch commented, 'People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.' Indeed! (And some of us are!)
June is the month when the full fanfare of flowers come into bloom. Especially roses. Roses are the flower of the month, the harbingers of summer. So lovely to see them blooming everywhere, bursting colour upon their surrounds and sweet fragrance too. There's nothing more perfect than the composition of a rose. Look how perfect its petals fold upon each other, how delicately and symmetrically. You couldn't replicate it if you tried! It's a work of art.
Lots of interesting facts about roses too. Did you know that they originally came from the Middle East via the Crusades? That despite their eloquent beauty, they're pretty tough and don't need much in the way of preening and pruning? (My type of flower!) They're used in so many different sayings, most especially as a motif for enjoying life, ie.  'to smell the roses' and as an emblem of beauty and an appreciation of beauty, as Anais Nin says, 'I'd rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck.' They're associated with physical beauty too. To be deemed a 'rose' is to be acknowledged as pretty. Cleopatra is said to have bathed in rose petals to preserve her beauty. The scent of roses today is harvested for all kinds of perfumes. And not only is their appearance soothing, but rose oil used in skin tonics and the like, has a calming effect not only on the skin, but on moods too. (tried and tested!)

Roses are famed as the most beautiful flower of all. It's hard not to swoon at them. Maybe that's why they've become the official flower and symbol of romance? What would Valentine's Day be without a red rose? I mentioned how artists are taken with flowers, but poets and writers are too. Especially poets, with odes to this flower especially making a famous sonnet or two throughout the decades. Most famous of them perhaps is Robert Burns' 'My Love is Like a Red Red Rose', which goes along the lines of:
My love is like a red, red rose     
   That’s newly sprung in June :
My love is like the melody
   That’s sweetly played in tune.                  
(You can read full poem here) Or what about Shakespeare's famous likening of a rose to love's truth in Romeo and Juliet - 'What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet'?
Or this quite beautiful poem  'Roses' by George Eliot:

You love the roses - so do I. I wish
The sky would rain down roses, as they rain
From off the shaken bush. Why will it not?
Then all the valley would be pink and white
And soft to tread on. They would fall as light
As feathers, smelling sweet; and it would be
Like sleeping and like waking, all at once!     

One poet who I'm particularly fond of, Alice Oswald, has a book dedicated solely to flowers,
well,  wildflowers to be exact, in which she pens a poem to flowers we sometimes take for granted, describing them in humanly terms, attributing endearing personalities and stories to them.
She asserts that "flowers are recognisably ourselves elsewhere", and sets to work to achieve that recognition, "using the names of flowers to summon up the flora of the psyche". In 'Daisy', the flower becomes a "quiet child", too small for the author "to look in her open eye". The poem "Snowdrop" imagines "a pale and pining girl, head bowed, heart gnawed" very weak, broken-hearted, almost dead, "But what a beauty, what a mighty power/of patience kept intact is now in flower." (You can read 'Daisy' and 'Iris' here) Louise Gluck is another poet who has released a book on the theme of flowers, 'The Wild Iris.' In it, she compares life and relationships to flowers in a garden. (Read more on it here)
There's a lot more to flowers than meets the eye. Like language for instance. Yep. Did you know that flowers have/are a language of their own? That each one represents something? Well I didn't either until I read the novel 'The Language of Flowers' by Vanessa Diffenbaugh:

The book is a fictional novel, but one which bases its plot on the Victorian language of flowers system. The Victorian Language of Flowers was a dictionary system by which every flower was assigned a meaning from which secret messages could be exchanged via flower giving and arrangements. It originated in Victorian England, where expressing yourself was a tad difficult given their strict rules of etiquette. So flowers became like the Morse Code of romance. For example, if you wanted to confess your love to someone, you would send tulips, as their flower meaning is 'declaration of love.' Roses of course, represented love and romance, red most prominently. But yellow roses dealt in jealousy and betrayal. Orange roses meant fascination, while elusive purple ones represented enchantment.

Here's some more:

Fuchsia - Humble love (and a humble little flower)

Cactus - ardent love (well you'd need to be ardent to withstand those spiky bits!)

Pomegranate ~ foolishness (keeping with the myth here!)

Pansies ~ thinking of you

Forget-Me-Not ~ True Love

Rosemary ~ remembrance (if you remember Hamlet, you'll know this one!)

Wisteria ~ welcome

Orchid ~ refined beauty (you just have to look at it to know this!)

Peppermint ~ warmth of feeling (interesting contradiction this!)

Mistletoe ~ I surmount all obstacles (Hmm, could this have anything to do with those liberties taken under it at Christmas?!)

Nettle - cruelty (who wants to get stung?! of course nettles represent cruelty!)

Labernum ~ pensive beauty (maybe that's why there's a laburnum planted outside our local library...)

Snow drop ~ Hope (a very potent symbol of hope too, being the first flower to show itself in winter)

But it wasn't all associated with romance. Give someone a common thistle and what you're really saying is 'misanthropy' - i.e. stay away from me, I don't like you along with the rest of the human race, grrrr! The meanings were derived in some cases from how the flower looked, its growing characteristics and things it was associated with. For example, cherry blossoms mean 'impermanence', given their very brief blooming period. Daffodils mean new beginnings, arising as they do as one of the first flowers of Spring. Roses got their association with romance in part from their beauty and pain (those damn thorns). Daisies mean cheerfulness, and who isn't cheered by the sight of sprawling daisies on a summer lawn? And one of my favourites, gladioli (pictured left), which look like spears, say: 'You pierce my heart'. Of course.

Incidentally, the language of flowers has come back into vogue today with wedding bouquets. In the UK, the newspapers reported on Kate Middleton's bridal bouquet when she married Prince William. Apparently she chose all the right ones for a long-lasting marriage: hyacinth - for constancy of love and ivy for fidelity, along with lily-of-the-valley meaning a return of happiness. (Just like in the novel, Victoria's wedding bouquets prove to be a magic success.)

It's fascinating really, this language of flowers. But I  do say I prefer its meanings in everyday life rather than just weddings (-why do flowers always get associated primarily with weddings? It's a bit biased if you ask me!) Flowers should flourish in everyday life! And the language of flowers is something that can be incorporated in a more general way, for example giving someone a geranium is a mark of  true friendship. You can read more on all those meanings here! (But a warning, Google around, as some of them are inconsistent with each other! I'm going by the dictionary listed in the novel). Look up your favourite flower and see what it means? Could it be related to your personality, your emotions? Or next time someone brings you flowers, you'll be able to read into the situation further!
Now, I just can't end without saying a word on my favourite flower: peonies. Peonies are a type of rose, the most glorious of all the roses if you ask me. Their big fat and fluffy pink blooms remind me of cheerleader pom-poms or taffeta skirts. They're the biggest of all the blooms in the flower family (huge!) and loud in their bubble-gum pink petals.  Showy yes, but did you know that one of their flower meanings is bashfulness?  One of their other meanings is (wait for it) - anger. Anger, hmm. Maybe because peony buds look like clenched fists? They're almost as big as them. And tight and closed like you are when you're angry. And then when they burst into bloom, maybe it resembles the explosion of anger a little - all that pinkness of fury. Ha!

One of the reasons why I like them (despite the anger meaning, not!) is that they're hard to get, like a special delicacy. Their blooming season is the end of June, and when they do bloom, like the cherry blossom, they only last a short time. (But oh, while they last!!) Hardly any shops stock them, only really good florists. And because of this, they're quite expensive and elusive. 

There's just something very special about peonies. I love their sugar-sweet colour, the pinkest of pinks, like blushes of or all the flush of youth (they do come in a darker tone too, but I love the light pink one). I love how they look like lollipops when they're not yet in bloom, a crafty disguise that conceals perfectly the frilled exuberance to come, like an overlooked ugly duckling that turns into a glorious swan. Their big magnaminous blooms, like a declaration, seem a mascot of happiness and sweetness. When you pass peonies in a street flower vendor's, they're the whoa! flowers that catch your eye first. Big and blustering and making a fuss. Not reserved or regal like other roses or perfect. Peonies don't care about elegance; they're all about blooming, the bigger the better. And instead of refined perfection, they go in more for big buoyant personality.  

They're a much more romantic flower too I think than your red roses. They're more spontaneous for one: they make a big bold statement rather than a clichéd neat and defined one. They're far more able to express bountiful loving sentiments than small roses with their abundant mille-fois of petals and big smiling faces. A bouquet of peonies from a lover would be an enthusiastic declaration of love, all swagger and swoon, and blushing delight! They seem to denote an abundance of love. Yes, maybe that's what I see in them. An abundance and a willingness to open your heart, open it wide, until it's at a big beautiful bursting point.

Well, that's my take on them. Below is Mary Oliver's poem on peonies which reveals a little more about what they mean and represent. To her they are emblems of beauty, 'beauty the brave, the exemplary, blazing open.' Yes, they're a brave kind of flower, with their blatant beauty, impossible to ignore. But more than that, they are 'reckless' in their blooming, a testament to the fact that they're alive and desirous to make the most of it, as are we, as should we. Maybe they're what a self could look like in full bloom??

Oh, there's so much more that you could say about peonies. And roses. And any kind of flowers! But maybe to analyse them too much would be to destroy their endless capacity for wonder and delight?

Okay, so here I stop. What's your favourite flower, and why? What summer bloom makes you happy?

Smelling the roses, literally and metaphorically -

~ Siobhán

Peonies - Mary Oliver

This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
   to break my heart
     as the sun rises,
        as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers

and they open--
   pools of lace,
      white and pink--
       and all day the black ants climb over them,

boring their deep and mysterious holes
    into the curls,
      craving the sweet sap,
        taking it away

to their dark, underground cities--
   and all day
      under the shifty wind,
       as in a dance to the great wedding,

the flowers bend their bright bodies,
   and tip their fragrance to the air,
     and rise,
       their red stems holding

all that dampness and recklessness
    gladly and lightly,
      and there it is again--
        beauty the brave, the exemplary,

blazing open.
    Do you love this world?
      Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
       Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?

Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden,
   and softly,
      and exclaiming of their dearness,
       fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,

with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
    their eagerness
      to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
        nothing, forever?

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Bloomsday Blurb

Today in Ireland we celebrate Bloomsday. Which is to say we celebrate Irish writer James Joyce, namely his infamous novel Ulysses. 

Bloomsday has become quite the institution in Ireland the past few years. Especially in Dublin with all kinds of events like walking tours and readings taking place. 

I have to admit, I'm not that huge a fan of Joyce. He's a brilliant writer no doubt, a truly original and trend-setting writer, writing as he was in the Modernist tradition, which set an entire new precedent for literature. 

Maybe it's because we were force-fed him at college - University College Dublin that is, where Joyce himself studied - and as such had the pleasure (and challenge) of studying a heavily saturated compulsory course list of Joycean (yep he's so great he even has an adjective named after him!) content. Buildings everywhere on campus are named after Joyce. The leading authorities on Joyce in this country have often originated and frequently taught in UCD. But I never really got into Joyce. We had to read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Dubliners which I both enjoyed, especially Dubliners, which at the time, was like an intimate companion guide to the experience (and epiphanies ha!) of living in the city. Ulysses, his masterpiece, we only touched on, looking briefly at selected episodes in the novel.  

Everyone's heard of it - but how many can hold up their hands and say that they've actually read it? It has the reputation of being one of the most impenetrable books ever! Not least because of its length (it's a tome for sure, a doorstop, approximately 260,000 words!), but more so because of its maze-like structure, rambling vague plot, modernist stream-of-consciousness prose and all-over enigmatic meandering. 

So what is it about anyway? Well, it chronicles the passage of the main character, Leopold Bloom through Dublin during an ordinary day, 16 June 1904 (notably, the day of Joyce's first date with his future wife Nora Barnacle.) 'Ulysses' is the Latinised name of Odysseus, the hero of Homer's epic The Odyssey, and the novel is a similar 'quest' one, following the structure of Homer's epic with chapters listed as correspondng episodes, eg Circe, The Sirens, Ithaca etc. It explores the 'epic' nature of everyday life, with experimental prose that delves deep into the human psyche and indeed the aesthetics of literature.

It wasn't until later, many years post-college, when I attended a talk on the book by a very enthusiastic Joyce lover, that I began to warm to it. He recommended that we 'enjoy' the flow of it, rather than get enmeshed in trying to find meaning in it, and introduced us to the remarkable beauty of its language with well-chosen excerpts and an enthused reading of Molly Bloom's ecstatic life-affirming monologue at the end of the book. I'll admit, I was impressed.

It's no denying the writing is revelatory and beautiful and full of wonderful neologisms. Stephen Daedalus' observations of a dog on the beach in the Proteus episode illustrate this:
'At the lacefringe of the tide he halted with stiff forehoofs, seawardpointed ears. His snout lifted barked at the wavenoise, herds of seamorse. They serpented towards his feet, curling, unfurling many crests, every ninth, breaking, plashing, from far, from farther out, waves and waves.' It's a text that begs to be read aloud - the sound of the language in this instance, as immersive and hypnotic as the sea itself.

And of course, it's hard to deny the exhilarating quality of the language of Molly Bloom's infamous soliliquy at the end of the book, consisting of eight run-on-sentences full of urgency and contemplation (punctuated by many affirmative uses of the word 'Yes'  (*You can read the full soliloquy here) But here's the finale of it:

'O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and the pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.'

But I think the lure of the book also lies in its celebration of Dublin. Bloomsday is in a way, a celebratory navigation of the city itself. From Sandymount Strand to Sandycove, Barney Kiernans pub to Sweny's Chemist, where Bloomsday revellers repeat Leopold Bloom's buying of lemon soap, now a staunch tourist souvenir of the city and the chemist itself a venue for regular readings of the novel. Yep, Bloomsday attracts not only Joycean admirees but also fans of Dublin itself.  (You can see more on locations in Ulysses here)

Ulysses is just one of those books I suppose. The kind that pique interest, curiousity and controversy, (in Joyce's day, if not today too!), confuse and compel, cause argument and admiration. I suppose it's a book you either love or hate; there is no in-between. Or, is there? 

To my college self, new to literature, Ulysses seemed not only impenetrable, but a tad pretentious. It was a book I'd love to have said I'd read, but without the bother of actually having to read it! But now, my mind has changed on this matter (even though I have the tendency to steer clear of doorstop tomes!) Now it seems like a curious challenge, one which I no longer shrink from, but am intrigued and attracted by. A book I would actually like to read, more than say I had read it. If you know what I mean...!

And I think Bloomsday has a lot to do with it. There are a lot of Joyce lovers out there, and a lot of Ulysses lovers too it seems. And on Bloomsday, they seem to be having a really great time. It's enough to make you want to read the book, isn't it? To see what all the fuss is about?

Maybe, just maybe. 

~ Siobhán

*Even Marilyn Monroe was a fan!

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Why Gatsby is So Great

Nearly everyone names The Great Gatsby as one of their all-time favourite books. Even people who have never read it have at least heard of it. 

Then there's those who know it from the well-known 1970s film version with Robert Redford. And those who are being swept away at the moment with the latest reinvention from Baz Luhrmann. Indeed, it's sparked a kind of Gatsby mania.

So what is it about it that is so great?  What makes it feature on everyone's list of favourite books?

Well it's a classic and one that lives on long in readers imaginations after they've read it. It currently sells half a million copies each year in the U.S! It never leaves literature teaching curriculums. Seems the story of a man who makes it big, chases down the American dream, with all the blessings and trappings that come with it, in an attempt to win back his true love, is one that never gets old. It's the kind of book that you go back to again and again and everytime, find something new in it. Like one reviewer said -  the book sparkles like a multi-faceted diamond revealing some new colour on every new reading.

It's a story that everyone can relate to, in some shape or form. It's a story in which the characters are not merely characters but archetypes, metaphors, shadows and symbols. It's a book that you'll come away from stunned. For all its dressings of superficiality, it will move you and affect you like no other. 

Anyway, after thinking about it for a long time (I love the book so much I was afraid that in writing about it,  I would fail to capture its brilliance!), I came up with ten reasons (narrowed down!) why I think it's such a great book. Here they are, in no particular order:

(*Spoiler alerts* for those of you yet to read/see it!)

1. Relevance:

Even though The Great Gatsby is set in the 1920s (and was written in 1925), it never feels out-dated or redundant. Quite the opposite infact. Maybe why it is trending again today is its relevance to our economic position - i.e. the recession. Gatsby was set in America of the roaring 1920s, Long Island, New York, to be exact, with all its glitz and wealth, the country finding its (dancing) feet again after the Great War. After the war was a time of wealth and excess - a time almost equal to our own previous boom time, with both being followed by a grand economic collapse. The Great Depression of 1929 was to put an end to all the excesses as ours did. The novel is famed for offering a kind of prophetic warning that this kind of revelry couldn't last; that the bubble would eventually burst just as Gatsby's did. A good story is always timeless and The Great Gatsby is as timeless as they come.

2. Jazz Age Setting:

Gatsby is set in the legendary 1920s, or the 'Jazz Age' as it was better known by. It was the era of live-it-up hysteria and excess which came in the wake of World War I. People were reckless and risk-takers and money was for lavishing around. The story revolves around the rich of New York and the extravagance of their lifestyles. Gatsby throws elaborate parties (which would rival any today!) that attract guests from far and wide around the city to indulge in an array of comforts - orchestras and champagne and celebrities to name but  a few. Modern symbols of this wealth and status can be seen in the Baz Luhrmann film to great effect - for instance, the giant Moet bottle of champagne at one party, the Ladureé macaroons Gatsby brings to tea for Daisy, the decadent diamond-clad flapper dresses by Prada and the hip-hop/rap music soundtrack.  

The glitz and glamour of the '20s is a heady attraction for a wide spectrum of people: fashion-lovers, music-lovers, money enthuses, party animals, culture vultures. It's the golden period of history, one that we would all love to return to and sample ourselves. It's such a big attraction in The Great Gatsby. Just look at the Gatsby mania now created by the recent film. Fshion labels are going crazy for flapper again, even Tiffanys of New York have jumped onboard with a new Gatsby inspired line of decadent 1920s style jewellery. It's a period that never tires.

3. The character of Gatsby:

A major draw of the book is the character of Gatsby himself. He's mysterious, aloof and wrapped in an aura of mystique when we first meet him. Then he becomes endearing and admirable. Despite his dodgy dealings to gain his money, we can't help but be bowled over by the tenacity of his ambition and the devotion to his dream of making it big and winning back Daisy. Nick remarks of him affectionately at the beginning that he had 'an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which is likely I shall ever find again.' He is awed by Gatsby's persistence in obtaining his dream, his hope that he will be reunited with his first love, Daisy.

Not just that, but Gatsby is a man with a dream, an idealist - in a fake and fickle world. It is this which draws Nick to him, and us too. At the end of the novel, just before Gatsby's death, Nick tells him that 'he's worth the whole damn bunch (Daisy and Tom and Jordan) put together' and it's true. He's not like the callous careless Buchanans or the rest of the moneyed elite. He stands out as a good man in the midst of unsavoury characters and we come to feel that he shouldn't be in this world at all.

Gatsby embodies the ultimate story of rags-to-riches transformation and we applaud him for this, even, admittedly, when we find out of his unseamly connections. He has impeccable manners (as some of his guests will attest to), conducts himself as a gentleman ('old sport') and is unselfish and noble to the end. He even appears vulnerable and child-like in comparison to the other characters who are shrewd and cynical.In a word, he truly is 'great.' Great as in the affable host of so many amazing parties, great to have built himself up from nothing, great in his ambitions and success; but also, great as in  a good guy, one of the best, despite the circumstances that surround him.  We finish the book with great admiration for Gatsby and an even greater sense of sympathy.

4. It's a tragic love story*:  

Ever since finding out that Gatsby has reinvented himself from the poor penniless young officer 'Jay Gatz' in order to win back the love of his life, Daisy Buchanan, we hold high hopes of this happy ending, but soon see it won't work out like that.  Gatsby is a dreamer, an idealist, a romantic - Daisy is not. We discover just before Gatsby that his affections in Daisy are misplaced; that she is not as glorious as he thinks of her, far from it. When Nick remarks to him, before the fated trip to New York, that she has a strange-sounding voice, Gatsby replies that it is the sound of 'money.' And that's when the tale turns and our opinions too.
When the truth finally is outed to Tom about Daisy and Gatsby's love for each other, Daisy fails miserably to support Gatsby and crawls pathetically back to Tom. It becomes clear to us that she has abandoned all ideas of having a life with Gatsby. We watch as her character disintegrates further when she lets Gatsby take the blame for the ensuing car accident, which inevitably leads to his death.  Most despicable of all is how she doesn't even acknowledge the fact that he is dead, a man she claimed to have loved, she just leaves without even as much as a flower or a phone call as Nick remarks. How could she be so cruel? It is then that we feel the full pang of sympathy for Gatsby and realise that this is not truly a tragic love story, but just a tragedy. A tragedy of a good man led astray. And what hooks us readers better than a tragedy?
5. The narrator:  

The book uses the device of a narrator, an innocent onlooking bystander in the person of the affable Nick Carraway. Nick is our eyes and ears in the book - everything we know comes through him, the impartial observer. He mirrors our own thoughts and feelings and puts into eloquent articulate words, what they are. Through Nick we come to understand the characters and especially gain insight into them and their world. Nick corroborates our theories and notions. He navigates us through this world with admiration, curiosity and awe as well as repulsion and condemnation: 'I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.' We share in his affection for Gatsby and feel that he is the only one, as well as Gatsby, among these people who is worth anything. He is our tether to morality and normality as the story evolves, the gauge by which we measure the goings-on of the world of the novel. Without Nick, the story wouldn't feel as intimate or exacting.

6. The language: 

The Great Gatsby has been described as a 'poetic' novel. One friend once described it as eating a very rich dark chocolate - you want to savour it one piece at a time. And it is like that. You pore over the words and find yourself re-reading passages until they become whole pages. Everything about it is exquisite. Fitzgerald has a way of describing things that is beautifully and heartbreakingly apt. His descriptions are revealing and revelatory, as in this instance when Nick first meets Gatsby:  'He smiled understandingly - much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you come across four or five times in life. It faced - or seemed to face - the whole eternal world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favour. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.'

F. Scott Fitzgerald was a dab hand at feather-light prose.  He describes the events of Gatsby parties as 'where he dispensed starlight to casual moths'. (And I love how in the Baz Luhrmann film the words float around Tobey Maguire's Nick in a magical touch). When talking of Gatsby's love for Daisy, the language is invested with a sparkling romanticism: 'So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning-fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips' touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete.'

And perhaps the most memorable descriptions in the novel are those of the parties -
'There was music from my neighbour's house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like  moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars...The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun, and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music, and the opera of voices pitches  a key higher.' The poetic prose adds to the delicacy of the story and fine-tunes its inherent beauty to maximum effect.   
7. An exploration of the American Dream (and dreams)*:

Gatsby's story is one of successful reinvention. All throughout his childhood and formative years, he dreamed of being more. He wanted what every American (and everyone) wants - to better himself, to achieve things, to matter, to count, to be someone. His parents were poor and at the end of the novel we find out from Gatsby's father just how determined he was to improve himself when he was a boy - setting out study and work timetables and rules for himself to abide by. And he achieved his dream. But by ambivalent means. The novel as such makes a commentary on the American dream, both a positive and a negative one.
It could be argued that Gatsby's illegal associations and role as a 'bootlegger' inevitably lead to his tragic end. Or that he  is so obsessed with achieving his dream that it blinded him and as such, led to his death. But on the other hand, Gatsby's fierce and admirable pursuit of his dream was what kept him pure in a sense. It was a noble pursuit and more than a passion - it was his whole existence and as hinted, a means to redemption, with Nick noting that the dream of Daisy had gone 'beyond her, beyond everything' and goes on to add with a sense of awe and pity, that 'no amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man can store up in his ghostly heart.' 

Dreams, including the American dream, may be 'incorruptible' in the dreamer's eyes, but not in reality. The novel issues a kind of warning in this respect: pursue your dream, they can and do come true, but make sure you pursue the right dream, and more importantly, in the right way. What's more, it's more important to have a dream in your heart, a green light to pursue, than to achieve your dream and have it fall to pieces in your hands. Dreams guide us, dreams give us a fierce resoluteness, they sustain us, but some dreams, like Gatsby's, can get dashed on reality's shores.

8. A comment on American society/Past Vs Present Theme*: 

The Great Gatsby is, in many respects, an American novel. Leading Fitzgerald scholar James L. W calls The Great Gatsby "a national scripture. It embodies the American spirit, the American will to reinvent oneself."
Not only that, but the novel also makes a comment on the state of American society at the time.  Post-war America was an uncertain place, one that swung precariously between the nostalgic past before the war and the uncertain future, much like Gatsby himself. When Nick cops on that Gatsby's pursuit of Daisy is more to do with recreating the past he says to him that you can't repeat the past. Gatsby answers: 'Can't repeat the past? Why of course you can!' This is Gatsby's tragic flaw, his clinging belief and nostalgia for the past over the future. He disregards Daisy's present status as wife and mother, so enwrapped is he in his past love with her.  The green light at the end of Daisy's dock across the water from him, which is a motif of hope for him, also represents the green glow of the future, which he could not reach. Gatsby's tragedy lay in the fact that he believed his past to be his future.
At the end of the novel, Nick realises this as he comments: 'I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city,  where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.' 
He then goes on to equate Gatsby's dilemma with each of our own as well as America's - will it be able to proceed into the future confidently that 'year by year recedes us'? We failed before - 'it eluded us then' - but he continues hopefully, 'but that's no matter - tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further... And one fine morning - ' until he interjects - 'So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past' - in one of the most infamous last lines in fiction. Yes, America will continue to fight the past and reach for the future, but like Gatsby, and like us, will keep being drawn back to it like a boat in a current. 

So we finish the novel with the question in our mind - are we condemned to be controlled by the past? Is it our fate? Or can we beat on, to reach the 'orgastic future'? That is the question, isn't it? Great novels pose great questions and this is one of the most pondersome. Plus, is there any line more evocative, more beautiful and heartbreakingly sad as this last one? It echoes in your mind like a bobbing boat, rippling the surface, threading experience into meaning and emotion into a high swell.

9. It's based on real-life:

F. Scott Fitzgerald just didn't pluck the idea for Gatsby out of thin air. No, the book is loosely based on his own experiences in trying to woo his wife Zelda, a rich and pretty socialite, when he was just a penniless writer. Some critics even see it as a thinly-veiled autobiography. Fitzgerald and Zelda went on to be the party animals of the 20s - living it up in Paris, drinking and dancing, partying and holidaying, gaining the reputation of 'crazy' by many of their contemporaries.

Also, the fate of Gatsby when it was first published almost mirrors that of the lead character himself - it was a flop on first publication, failing to alight the interests of readers and critics. alike. Unfortunately, Fitzgerald died (at the young age of forty-four) before he could see it claim any of its great success. Now, as I already mentioned, it sells half a million copies in the U.S. each year and is listed as one of the greatest books of all time.

10. A prism story:

And finally, what makes Gatsby so great is the fact that it's not just a story, but a prism of a story - that is, within its one story, there are many stories. In other words, the novel, like Gatsby's eponymous smile - offers to us, each and every reader, what we want to take from it, what we need from it in a certain time and place - 'it understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood'. It is ever-shifting, like the diamond that reviewer spoke of. Perhaps we identify with Gatsby in his doomed quest, his unfettered idealism, his conviction? Or with Daisy, trapped by circumstances? Or with Nick, confused and perturbed at whatever new world we find ourselves in? The novel can be many different things to different people ('with an irresistible prejudice in your favour...') It is universal but deeply personal. It can be both a tale of hope and a cautionary tale of woe, a green light and a red light. A story of winning and losing, tragedy and beauty. It's never static, never stuck, always moving with us, like those boats in the current. It's this quality which makes it a book we re-read over and over, many times in a lifetime and see something different in it each time. For it is a story which deals with 'the unreality of reality', an idea that is always entrancing.  And that's what I think makes it such a great book, one of the greatest.

Hmmm, and apart from all that, it's really short! The fact you can read it in a day (only over a hundred pages!) is definitely a plus point for the book. (Coincidentally, Hemingway, a friend and contemporary of Fitzgerald's, read it in one afternoon sitting!) And it's particularly good to read in the summer, seeing as it's set then, with the real backdrop of all those moonlit blue nights and music floating on the air around you (swoon). 

How about you? What are your favourite things about Gatsby? Have you seen the new film? Read the book many times? Never read the book? About to read the book? As in love with it as I am??? Let me know why!

~ Siobhán