Having read The Great Gatsby and fallen in love with Fitzgerlad's story-telling, I couldn't help but wonder whether this was a one-off experience.
I was so mesmerised by the techniques he used, that I wanted to have more of it - and so chose to read This side of Paradise, Fitzgerald's first novel, semi-autobiographical, and the book that shot him to fame.
Would I distinguish his brilliance already there? Would I feel the "lost generation" he so eloquently spoke about?
Fitzgerald was in his early 20s when his wrote this book, and used elements from his personal experience to draw the character of Amory Blaine: a well-off, spoilt-rotten mama's boy who grows into a sad, lonely young man, never meant to find happiness...
Having first read the Great Gatsby inevitably puts this book in a stricter, harsher light. The writer is not yet master of his skill, so the book reads really like a very, very long description - a diary of the main character and everything that happens around him. This is very analytical and, as it also happens to be autobiographical of Fitzgerald, it was interesting to witness first-hand his character - or lack thereof.
Because Amory is not someone who will have to strive to get ahead in life: he's from a well-off family, with a father semi-absent and a mother who's just enjoying her personal crises. I could sense the boredom oozing from every corner of the book and I felt really lucky I did not have such an upbringing: Blaine cannot escape his destiny. He's handsome, intelligent and lazy in terms of actually doing something:
"Amory wondered how people could fail to notice that he was a boy marked for glory, and when faces of the throng turned toward him and ambiguous eyes stared into his, he assumed the most romantic of expressions and walked on the air cushions that lie on the asphalts of fourteen"I was almost ready to dismiss Amory, because I was slightly getting tired about all his "adventures" in prep school. I could understand his quest to fit in with all the other members of high society, but I was losing interest - fast. The drama boy was growing into a drama young man:
But, as life proves over and over again, Amory will have to face difficulties in his life - he will eventually lose his great love to money (which, in the meantime, his family has lost), he will fail to find success in work, he will even try to "advocate" Socialism in the hope to profit from an eventual revolution. Slowly, however, he will realise what his true self is. He's lost everything that would matter in an earlier stage - status, love, money - but now he's come to terms with what really is of essence.
The book ends with an enigmatic claim Amory makes: he now knows himself
"but that is all --"The dash at the end of that sentence, and not a full stop, is really what marks for me the turning point for Amory. He's hit bottom, he has accepted his true self, he can no longer hide - and he's now ready to move on...
I would not say I enjoyed This Side of Paradise as much as The Great Gatsby. While it's not a bad book, I found the inexperience of the pen failed to attract my attention. It is nevertheless a sincere portrayal of Fitzgerald, capturing his youth and his personal quests, and it made me appreciate Gatsby even more...
Read for A Modern March, hosted by A literary Odyssey
This Side of Paradise is available for free on Project Gutenberg. This post will also be published on Project Gutenberg Project.