Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Against the current

The sainted Roger Ebert has torn into an intermediate level ‘retelling’ of The Great Gatsby that replaces great slabs of Fitzgerald’s heady prose with unspeakable blandness:
There is no purpose in *reading* The Great Gatsby unless you actually *read* it. Fitzgerald’s novel is not about a story. It is about *how the story is told*. Its poetry, its message, its evocation of Gatsby's lost American dream, is expressed in Fitzgerald’s style – in the precise words he chose to write what some consider the great American novel. Unless you have read them, you have not read the book at all. You have been imprisoned in an educational system that cheats and insults you by inflicting a barbaric dumbing-down process. You are left with the impression of having read a book, and may never feel you need return for a closer look.
Well, yes, but... As several of Ebert’s respondents have suggested, in the real world, the choice is not so much between reading emasculated Fitzgerald and reading real Fitzgerald, but between reading emasculated Fitzgerald and not reading anything whatsoever. This is a line I used often when I edited the Guinness Book of Records, which was often attacked for being glossy and sensationalist compared to the glory days of the McWhirter brothers: at least we’re getting 12-year-old boys to read books, I said, and that shut them up. Sometimes I almost convinced myself.

Meanwhile, that other great sage Prince Charles has declared that it is “awful” for young readers that there are no more Harry Potter books on the horizon; which would suggest that children eased into the world of literature by the Rowling brand are unable to break out of Hogwarts and attempt more challenging texts. That said, would that be such as great loss if the next thing they reached for was Gatsby Lite?


7 comments:

Rol said...

Ebert might want to save his acrimony for Baz Luhrmann's forthcoming cinema adaptation... in 3D.

Rog said...

Dobby appears to be the lovechild of Putin and Chazza. Just saying.

Geoff said...

I wouldn't want to study The Great Gatsby but I do want to read it again.

Vicus Scurra said...

I haven't read it. Do I have to?

Tim Footman said...

Rol: I suspect that he'll like it overall, but express disappointment at Daisy's street dance routine.

You forgot Andrew Marr, Rog.

That's a good point, Geoff. It does strike me that this stripped-down version is more like a variant on Coles/York Notes than an aid to actually reading the thing.

Vicus: Yes.

Rol said...

Vicus - it's better than Dickens.

blackwatertown said...

Oh for fuck's sake - pardon my offensive and pointless swearing - but I'm sick of these bowlderisations and expurgations.