The most iconic American city and one of the most quintessential American novels makes this a seemingly obvious choice but if you watched the recent movie adaptation and only left thinking, "I want to have an overly decadent and theatrical 1920s party," then you've missed the point of the story just as much as Baz Luhrmann.
Never fear though, the author, Fitzgerald, can sympathise. You see, Fitzgerald was just as enamoured as we all are with the glitz of the Big Apple but whilst the skin tasted sweet, when he really bit down he discovered the rottenness of its core. This is the core of the story of Gatsby. A cautionary tale about the emptiness of the corrupted American Dream. Sure, to strive for something is 'great' but what if the goal is vacuous and dissatisfying? This is where the story heats up. In many ways Jay Gatsby is the lead character but he's not the narrator. That job is left to Nick Carreway, somebody who's removed enough from the world of the uber rich to recognise its many short comings but even he's kind of tempted by it. This is Fitzgerald! A man torn. Enough of an outsider to poetically critique all of the Old Money's faults, yet desperately longing to be a part of it, enjoying all the trappings that it provides. The rest of the characters? Well they're all in and shallower than a wading pool. The sort of animosity you end up feeling towards them paints a very clear picture of Fitzgerald's opinion. The femme fatale, Daisy, is just a walking dollar sign, hence you're not really sure if Gatsby is in love with her or her wealth. Fitzgerald's own wife, Zelda, wouldn't marry him until he was wealthy so it's not hard to see where he drew inspiration from. Zelda later went nuts and died in an asylum fire so sometimes life is just but in Gatsby's world justice is never really achieved. The thoughtlessly rich destroy the lives of those striving for the debunked American Dream and the rich retreat into the safety of their money. If this all sounds depressing it kind of is but if you like the sound of being challenged about the real cost of your Soho shopping spree to the tune of some of the finer prose ever penned then this is the book for your New York sojourn.
If you need further incentive then you should know that Fitzgerald was one of the major proponents of a literary posse known as 'The Lost Generation'. Disorientated and alienated following the atrocities of WWI a few fled the U.S. for Paris. Restless and cynical they sought meaningful experiences in love, writing, drinking and hedonism, making what Fitzgerald has to say relevant to those Lost Boys still disillusioned by what society has to offer. Fitzgerald struck upon an uncomfortable truth. It ain't always leisurely being lost but it sure is tempting.
- Stu McKerihan