Saturday, April 09, 2005

The Not-So-Great Gatsby

So, I just finished up The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The book is a very short read, which is filled with symbolism. Fitzgerald did a great job planning the book and setting it up just right, but structure isn't the only thing that makes a book. Sure, I was impressed by his use of colors as symbols and the obviously detailed work he put into it, but there are several things missing. But let's get to a brief fly through of the book first.

Nick Carraway has just moved to New York in the middle of the 20's. Actually he just moved away from New York, but it is written in such a way that we are looking back at the time when he was there. Nick quicly meets up with his cousin Daisy, and he is quickly informed that her husband is having an affair. We soon come to meet Nick's neighbor Jay Gatsby, who the rest of the story centers around. Gatsby is a very mysterious man who throws parties at his luxurious home on a regular basis. The central plot revolves around Gatsby and his true desire.

Here's the problem: the characters do NOT feel alive. They felt no more alive to me at the end than they did at the end. Fitzgerald gives us more than enough insight into their lives, but he does not make us feel like we know the characters. I can tell you anything you want to know about the characters, but I only know about them, which isn't enough to truly grasp the reader.

Some people might say that the characters are only a small problem, but I have also heard people say Fitzgerald has incredibly round characters (what books are they reading). What the characters did for me is make me consider the book as just ok instead of being good or great. It is a quick read though, also considered a classic, so it might be worth picking up just to say that you have. It really shouldn't take you more than a sitting, if you don't want it to.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Foucault's Pendulum...

After the whole Da Vinci Code buzz, I got into the mood for a little bit of a religious conspiracy, but I encountered one major problem: Dan Brown can't write. Dan Brown's book is so poorly paced with such poor sentence construction that there was no way I was reading all the way through it. With a good editor, I think Brown's book could have been so much better, but that is a completely different topic.

What is at hand is Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco, which I picked up as an alternative. I must say that overall I was impressed by the amount of care that Eco put into the book. Without such care, I don't think the book would have been nearly as impressive. The characters were about as alive as they get. The plot was expertly crafted with more information than you can shake a stick at. Eco makes a difference between what is the speculation of the characters and what is historical (or perhaps a bit stretched) information. Also, before I give you the wrong impression, the church and most biblical characters are left out. Instead the book focuses on the secrets that the occult and branches (the Templars included) that allegedly dabbled in it might hold.

For the main characters, the whole thing starts off as a joke. Three editors have received way too many books claiming this and that about where the Templars are now. All the stories are ultimately the same, so the editors decide to take it a step further. The men start feeding random esoteric knowledge into an old word processor, which reorders the lines for them. Of course, they then make leaps of logic to connect the most unrelated information. What's the result? A mess that none of them had planned for.

Simply put, the book exceeded my expectations. I heard several people complain that the book was just too hard to read, but I found that to be a bit off base. The first chapter or so is quite confusing, simply because the author elected to start just before the end and flash back to where it all began. The book is structure as one of the editors recollecting just two days after the events end.

It's definitely worth grabbing, so go grab a copy and slip into some good old fashioned conspiracy.