Well, ladies and gentlemen, I’d apologise for the radio silence over the last few months but that’d mean apologising for dealing with life itself. Besides, it feels a little presumptuous to apologise as though people were waiting for me to post something here. So let’s skip the pleasantries and get right into it, shall we?
I recently moved into a bigger bedroom, and it was during the third or fourth trip upstairs with an armful of books that I realised how out of hand my reading backlog had become. I’ve been on a relatively strict (for me) book-buying ban for a while now, and the plan is not to buy any new books until I’ve worked my way through at least 20 novels. Hell, I might avoid buying any until I buy my own house just because I’m tired of hauling things around Newcastle for the time being. Anyway, on to the actual book.
The Beautiful and Damned (1922)
I loved every bit of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925), so I’d been looking for another of his novels to get stuck into for a while when I came across this strong title; even if you’ve never heard of the guy, you’ve got to admit he’s got a knack for titles. So without really reading the blurb, Fitzgerald’s second novel made its way into my not-so-little collection. I found it to be a bit of a slow burn at first, but things do pick up when Anthony Patch, the protagonist, sets his sights on a sparkling socialite named Gloria Gilbert. That might sound like the introduction to a soppy romcom, but trust me, it’s not.
The Beautiful and Damned is a novel of decadence. It follows Anthony, a somewhat lackadaisical-but-jittery socialite and heir to his grandfather’s fortune, through his courtship and relationship with free-spirited Gloria. Slivers of World War I make it into the plot, but that’s far from the main focus of the story; what I can’t shake is the sense of apathy and indolence that seems to radiate from the two characters – Anthony in particular. It is a meditation on love and money, certainly, but there also seems to be this running theme of action versus inaction throughout the novel, primarily because the protagonists are crippled by an idealisation of, and obsession with, the past, to the extent that it consumes their present. As a reader, I almost want to reach into the text and shake the two twenty-somethings awake, at once frustrated by the nothing that they seem adept at doing and exasperated by selfishness so incredible it borders on narcissism.
“Tired, tired with nothing, tired with everything, tired with the world’s weight he had never chosen to bear.”F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned
So in terms of how effective the novel is in making me feel things as a reader, I’d say it’s pretty damn good. The writing itself is beautiful, almost poetic at times, but I wouldn’t describe it as un-put-down-able.
“Things are sweeter when they’re lost. I know–because once I wanted something and got it. It was the only thing I ever wanted badly, Dot, and when I got it it turned to dust in my hand.”F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned
It’s definitely worth a read, especially if you’re interested in Fitzgerald beyond his most popular work. You know, the one so many people love because of Leonardo di Caprio. No shade.
Have you read anything by F. Scott Fitzgerald? What did you think? Thoughts and recommendations welcome in the comments below!