Strengths: It grows on you; the ending is just perfect.
Weaknesses: Start is rambly and confusing at times.
Why I read it: Enjoyed The Great Gatsby; another of the Popular Penguins series.
Published: 2010 (original 1920)
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Setting: USA, primarily New York
Rating: 8 out of 10
Yet another Popular Penguin read. You should know by now that I can’t resist: 1. a bargain of the bookish sort and 2. a book series. One thing I like about the Popular Penguin series is that it’s allowed me to buy multiple books by classic authors cheaply – namely Evelyn Waugh and F. Scott Fitzgerald. As I normally pass on my books to family, friends or the library, the cover art (or lack of it) doesn’t worry me. (But who could resist though retro orange covers?)
The introduction to this book warned me that the first 100 pages would be somewhat shaky and then the story would come into its own. A great statement (which I promptly forgot) which summed up my feelings as I read those first 100 pages. Anthony, the protagonist, seems to be at a loose end, not doing very much but the same shallow things. Then he meets Gloria, and things perk up a bit at her somewhat outlandish ways for the time. They marry and things again become confused – how can you afford the high life (partying, drinking, motoring, holidaying) on a budget after the capital is diminished? This is where the story becomes stronger and more focused, as Gloria and Anthony need to break out of their lazy dream world and face reality. Up until this point, they had been hoping that Anthony’s grandfather would leave his considerable fortune to him. This belief is shattered when Mr Patch inadvertently disturbs a party at the ‘grey house’ (Anthony and Gloria’s summer rental outside of New York City) and sees all the things he disapproves of – smoking, drinking and dancing.
There is an increasing sense of pathos as Anthony and Gloria run out of money. Out of desperation, Anthony tries to join the army as an officer but is turned down due to flat feet. Ironically, he is later conscripted as a private. While physically apart, Gloria and Anthony seem to drift apart emotionally. Anthony has an affair with a girl that just won’t let go, while Gloria is focussing on recovering the Patch fortune. Even that fails to hold her interest for long and her letters to Anthony become shorter and fewer.
The climax of the book is bittersweet; as Anthony and Gloria are both somewhat unlikeable characters and I couldn’t decide whether I wished them well or not. It does hold true to the old adage of ‘be careful what you wish for, you just might get it’.
The bleak aspect on life in this book – what’s after the party? – reminds me of the Evelyn Waugh book, A Handful of Dust. The latter is a stronger book; however, if you can make your way through the bumpy first half of this book, you will be rewarded with a stellar second half. It’s not light and it’s not happy, but you’ll leave the book happy that you’re not Anthony or Gloria.