I don't know if my appreciation of this should be tempered by the fact I was about three quarters of the way through before I realised I'd read it before (though I think it was many years ago)!
It is (mostly) set in Long Island in summer of 1922, amongst the young, idle, amoral rich, playing fast and loose with their own lives and indeed, those of others. All very glamorous, self-centred, and shallow, but the possibility of darker things lurking holds interest and tension.
Even if you like celebrity parties, there are no good, pleasant characters; it may start off glamourising such lives, but things are very different by the end. "They were careless people... they smashed up things and creations and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness... and let other people clean up the mess they had made." (This even applies to children: only one is ever mentioned, but is then oddly forgotten, perhaps reflecting the sadness of how irrelevant she is to everyone.)
Nick, the narrator, is the odd one out in that he actually has to work for a living; he is also the most honest and honourable one (or perhaps the least dishonest and dishonourable, though the fact he explicitly mentions his reputation for honesty (more than once) does bring Lady Macbeth to mind). He reconnects with his cousin, Daisy, who is married to Tom, and dips his toe in their social set. Always the outsider, yet somehow inside, and thus surely culpable for things that happen, at least to some extent.
Daisy is perhaps the main character, though more words are written about others. Her name is unlikely to be a coincidence: daisies are robust and wild; they don't need or want hothouse pampering - despite appearances to the contrary.
The host with the most is the mysterious Jay Gatsby, who throws lavish parties for people he barely knows (albeit with an ulterior motive). Like all the main characters, he is a westerner who moved east. Nick (and therefore Fitzgerald) seems to think this is significant, though as a Brit, it is somewhat lost on me.
Some people see through the artifice: "She was appalled by West Egg [the village], this unprecedented 'place' that Broadway had begotten upon a Long Island fishing village - appalled by its raw vigour that chafed under the old euphemisms and by the too obtrusive fate that herded its inhabitants along a short-cut from nothing to nothing."
Americans often have strong feelings about this book because of the way it explores (and, initially at least, admires) The American Dream. However, as a modern Brit, with no emotional attachment to the concept, it still feels relevant.
The message is about the power - and danger - of chasing dreams, without giving thought to the wider ramifications. Extravagance and superficiality lose their lustre after a while. Perhaps the "celebrities" who currently fill the pages of glossy magazines such as Hello and OK should take note: there are many similarities.
Or maybe it's about the overwhelming force of love - its costs and consequences - and the pain that hope bestows.
Can you be true to yourself, or one you love, if you are dishonest in other realms?
There are some wonderful descriptions and images:
* One such couple "drifted here and there unrestfully wherever people played polo and were rich together".
* At times, it is almost Wildean, "I drove... to see two old friends whom I scarcely knew at all" and "I like large parties. they're so intimate. At small parties there isn't any privacy."
* "It was the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down, as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again."
* Chat that "was as cool as their white dresses and their impersonal eyes in the absence of all desire".
* "The last sunshine fell with romantic affection upon her glowing face... then the glow faded, each light deserting her with a lingering regret, like children leaving a pleasant street at dusk."
* "Her eyebrows had been plucked and then drawn on again at a more rakish angle, but the efforts of nature toward the restoration of the old alignment gave a blurred air to her face."
* "trousers of a nebulous hue"
* "the moon soaked with wet light his tangled clothes upon the floor"
* "Drowsiness closed down upon some vivid scene with an oblivious embrace... these reveries... were a satisfactory hint of the unreality of reality, a promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy's wing."
* Regarding a college, "dismayed at its ferocious indifference to the drums of his destiny".
* "his eyes leaking isolated and unpunctual tears"
There were also a couple of startlingly awkward phrases, one on the first page. No one is perfect, but given how much Fitzgerald is lauded for the perfection of his writing, they surprised me:
* "just remember that all
the people in this world haven't
had the advantages that you've had."
* "A sudden emptiness seemed to flow now from the windows and the great doors, endowing with complete isolation the figure
of the host, who stood on the porch, his hand up in an informal gesture of farewell."
Also, is "the day... was pouring rain" (not "with rain") common in American English?