Monday, July 8, 2013

This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald

This Side of ParadiseThis Side of ParadiseAmory Blaine inherited from his mother every trait, except the stray inexpressible few, that made him worth while. 

"This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald's romantic and witty first novel, was written when the author was only twenty-three years old. This semi-autobiographical story of the handsome, indulged, and idealistic Princeton student Amory Blaine received critical raves and catapulted Fitzgerald to instant fame. Now, readers can enjoy the newly edited, authorized version of this early classic of the Jazz Age, based on Fitzgerald's original manuscript. In this definitive text, This Side of Paradise captures the rhythms and romance of Fitzgerald's youth and offers a poignant portrait of the 'Lost Generation.'"

I was planning of Fitzgerald's novels to read The Beautiful and the Damned next, but I found This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald's first novel, in a book store, and read that instead. There was a lot of criticism of This Side of Paradise when it first came out, and it's definitely a strange book, very different from The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night. But I think I liked it more than Tender is the Night. The writing was funny, and the book was divided into quirky little sections, little snapshots of important incidents in Amory's life. I really liked that style. 

This Side of Paradise is not quite as brilliant as The Great Gatsby, but it is really entertaining, and as I said, odd. It's shorter than Tender is the Night but longer than The Great Gatsby (most books are, really). And I can definitely see where the criticism came from. It's really a strange book, but I enjoyed it a lot. There are lots of interesting sections and good character sketches. 

This Side of Paradise drew me in immediately. The character sketches were brilliant; of Amory and his college friends, and of course of the various women that he encounters. The writing was different than that of The Great Gatsby, but still very lyrical (though not as much) and poetic. In This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald can clearly be seen experimenting with different styles of writing novels, plays, and poetry. Much of it is written in a prose format, but there are some lists, lots of poems that the characters write, a few scenes in the format of a play, and letters. This makes for a lot of inconsistency, and I confess to skimming over some of the poems, but Fitzgerald's writing is brilliant whatever format he uses. There were really long chapters, short chapters, different parts, and interludes. Inconsistency gives rise to criticism, but it was his very first novel, and he was stretching his wings, you might say.  

If Gatsby is a short book to read slowly and savor, then This Side of Paradise is a slightly longer book that one races through, pausing to think about a few instances. I read the book really quickly once I got into it, especially the twenty or so pages in play format. It was just so compelling, interesting, and well written. Some of the characters are likable, some are not, and they're all so interesting; more interesting is their relationships with one another. 

I haven't read The Beautiful and the Damned, but of the three novels I have read of Fitzgerald's and his short stories, this was most definitely my second favorite (after The Great Gatsby). It was absorbing, arresting, powerful, and painted a very convincing portrait of the time period before the 1920's. Gatsby is set in the tired, cheap decadence of the 20's, and this semi-autobiographical novel is set before that really set in. I thought it was interesting how Fitzgerald really just skipped the war period; he writes about Amory's experiences before the war and after the war, describing the war not at all. There's only a few letters right before Amory goes to fight, and right after he gets back. It was interesting. 

This is definitely an under-appreciated novel, which I would highly recommend. 

261 pages. 

Rating: *****

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