Arturo recently found an article called The 50 best audiobooks of all time. It’s a great list, but the book that caught my attention was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby narrated by Jake Gyllenhaal.
Jake Gyllenhaal is an outstandingly talented actor. I had no doubt that he’d make a great Nick Carraway, with his blistering commentary on the characters that inhabit the fictional world of West and East Egg on Long Island. And I was not disappointed.
The Great Gatsby is so well known that a plot outline seems redundant here. Suffice to say that this Jazz Age-era novel is a simple story so beautifully written and enchanting that it continues to endure. Though it may seem surprising now given its popularity, the book initially sold badly and was largely written off. The story is different today. Of course, Baz Luhrmann’s colourful movie adaptation in 2013 served to further cement its position as a classic.
I love audiobooks, but I tend to digest information better when I read it. For that reason, I tend to prefer listening to books that I’ve already read. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing is so wonderful—full of rich, long sentences that wind around without rambling—that I do think the book deserves to be read in book form to truly appreciate it.
That notwithstanding, Gyllenhaal brings the book to life, and it’s an easy to follow story, albeit one that is dotted with the odd peculiar phrase more familiar at Fitzgerald’s time of writing. Fitzgerald’s signature prose is poetic though simple, and is a joy to read (or listen to)!
Unlike many other audiobooks, this is a short book and hence a quick read, clocking in at just under five hours. If you are new to audiobooks, this is a good one to start with as it’s not a heavy commitment.
One aspect which makes this book so appealing is the time in which it is set. A member of the so-called “Lost Generation”, Fitzgerald opens a window to a complex point in history, shortly after World War I. In this novel he captures the listlessness and disillusionment of many young people after the war.
For the rich, the period was one of growth and prosperity. As such, decadence and materialism are also key themes in this book. As the narrator, Nick is intrigued by the lifestyles of those around him, yet still retains a level of detachment. More than that, he also shows his disdain for the superficiality around him.
It is easy to despise certain characters in this book for their lavish lifestyles and selfish natures. Tom and Daisy Buchanan are the most obviously despicable people. Towards the end of the story, Nick says of the pair:
Nick himself is a fascinating character, even if he doesn’t have the same mystery or appeal as others in the book. He judges various characters in the book, but does not analyse his own actions to the same degree.
In one of my favourite quotes in the book, Nick says the following about himself:
“Every one suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.”
Fitzgerald has not created one-dimensional characters. As the titular character, Gatsby is an intriguing and enigmatic figure. Though Carraway is critical of Gatsby, he also warms to him. Through Nick’s eyes we witness the superficiality and materialism of Gatsby (and the others), but we also go beyond that.
It is no wonder that The Great Gatsby is so well loved and widely read. Anyone new to the book may prefer to read the book rather than listen to it on audio. If you are into audiobooks, or if you have already read the book and would like to have it convincingly brought back to life, I cannot speak highly enough of this wonderfully and faithfully narrated audio version by Jake Gyllenhaal.