The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

672_largeIt’s not a good sign if you haven’t even read to the end of the first chapter of a book and you’re already thinking “the more time I spend reading this book the faster it will be over.”

This fictionalized account of Fitzgerald’s married life explores the Jazz Age and the decadence and dangers that being born into beauty and money can bring. The message Fitzgerald is painstakingly illustrating is that you need more than money to live a worthwhile life. It’s a good idea and his writing is poetic enough (although it didn’t blow me away) but I didn’t care about the characters and the plot (if you can call it a plot) meanders so drearily that I almost fell asleep reading it.

The protagonist Anthony Patch is too self absorbed to love another person or even make an interesting narrator so I found the whirlwind romance between him and Gloria the most pitiful example of its kind. I can see what affect Fitzgerald was aiming for but the characters are so unlikeable even before their troubles start with their antisemitism, racism against their Japanese butler and utter lack of interest in the world around them that I didn’t really care what happened to them at all. Worse than being dislikeable characters they weren’t interesting ones.

The style is definitely what I found most remarkable about the novel. The poetic interludes, the lines of dialogue and crisp subheadings. I found the way Fitzgerald inserted passages of plain dialogue very odd. It’s not that I didn’t like it. I found the technique appealing. But that attitude I had sums up my feelings for the whole book. Detached, vaguely interested in the technical style but overall emotionally and intellectually unmoved.

The dialogue between Beauty and The Voice is the very thin highlight of the book for me, It wasn’t groundbreaking but it had a lovely archaic poetry to it and joined the few brief moments I respected the authors writing. Also was the smart insight into the Patch’s marriage:

They were stars on this stage, each playing to an audience of two: the passion of their pretense created the actuality. Here, finally, was the quintessence of self-expression- yet it was probable that for the most part their love expressed Gloria rather than Anthony. He felt often like a scarcely tolerated guest at a party she was giving.

Overall this would have been better as a novella.  I became distantly interested near the end when they constantly argued about mundane day to day living in the same way I’d be half heartedly interested in watching an episode of EastEnders. As this is the first Fitzgerald I’ve ever read, however, it doesn’t compel me to read any more.

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