13 September 2009

This Side of Paradise (F.Scott Fitzgerald)

Often after I have finished a book I take a few days to ruminate on the characters I have just given free passage into my subconscious. They all reside in a particular space in my brain- I call it the Syd Barrett Memorial Room. 'Tis a wonderful place; its only problem being it IS located right next to my memory room, and the adjoining door does not lock.

This has proven embarrassing over the years. I will be entertaining a group with an anecdote and be interrupted with- "That wasn't you, that was Huckleberry Finn, YOU EGOTISTICAL FREAK." Having been berated thusly I will shake my head vigorously, which looks to be a denial but is, in fact, me merely trying to get everyone back into their proper rooms.

As you can see, this adjoining door which does not lock has been problematic. In fact, 'adjoining door' is incorrect. It is more of a swinging half-door, like those you see in old-fashioned saloons. Sharon Stone often strides through it wearing chaps, dragging a be-chained Russell Crowe behind her. I must stress they belong in neither room, but have wandered over from the 'Career Aspirations' part of my brain.

I digress.

ANYWAY, in the SBMR all the characters I have ever met lounge about haphazardly. Those that are hazy around the edges are people who left little impression on me. Those with sheets draped over them were extremely memorable for terrible reasons and I have tried my best to forget about them (the more enterprising have cut holes in the sheets so as to retain a certain amount of vision and dexterity).

My favourites are those normally to be found at the bar. Vernon God Little is always hanging around the door to the Gents. Jo March and Olive Kitteridge do not get along AT ALL and tend to stand on opposite sides of the room. Aloysius normally takes refuge under a chair so as to avoid unwanted cuddles.

And everyone defers to Gatsby... including myself when I am able to get away from the incessant nothingness that is my life. He stands to the side of the room, drink in hand, never taking a sip. He is tall and commanding; a chilly heat permeates from his person. No one can take their eyes off him, but no one can talk to him.

Just recently, Amory Blaine from This Side of Paradise has been admitted into the SBMR. He shares a father with Gatsby, as well as a certain poise, smoking jacket, 'man about town' air. But he stumbles where Gatsby stands tall. He is drunk when Gatsby remains sober. He falls to pieces when his love is spurned. But worst of all, his courage is shown only through the supremely self-indulgent journey he takes and his final realisation: "'I know myself,' he cried, 'but that is all.'"

Great Amory. Compare yourself to Gatsby, who sacrifices his reputation and livelihood for the girl (who doesn't deserve him it must be added) and ultimately forfeits his life. You, Amory, have moped for 254 and a half pages and the only admirable thing you've done is taken the rap for your friend who was entertaining a lady in his hotel room.

Because some of their characteristics are similar I suspect Amory may have been a young, rough prototype for Fitzgerald's greatest character Jay Gatsby. Gatsby also had his flaws and weaknesses, but they merely served to strengthen his character's attractiveness rather than render him useless and pathetic. In fairness, this was Fitzgerald's first novel and he's done a bang-up job- it's intelligent, witty, memorable and passionate. But compared to the elegance and restrained desperation of The Great Gatsby it is clear Fitzgerald perfected his craft over the years.

Rating: 7/10.
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