Monday, July 2, 2012

Book Review: This Side of Paradise

"I hope something happens. I'm restless as the devil and have a horror of getting fat or falling in love and growing domestic."
- This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald

I originally became aquainted with F. Scott Fitzgerald through living in Minnesota and consistently hearing him referred to as some sort of great St. Paul literary author. In the fall of 2011, I picked up an anthology of his short stories which were contextually related to Fitzgerald's upbringing in St. Paul, which is also where I am from. Having a connection to the same city and also fancying the historic side of it, I was hoping that Fitzgerald would be a good fit for my library. His short stories charmed me. His poetic language, the Jazz Age excitement, and his elaborate characters thrown in with a city and Midwestern culture which I greatly identified with had me hooked. I soon picked up The Great Gatsby and plowed through that. It was only time before I started from the beginning, with Fitzgerald's first full length novel, This Side of Paradise.

Published in 1920, This Side of Paradise remains the only novel written by the author in his native Minnesota. I particularly enjoyed the book because of the slightly insufferable, horribly disillusioned main character, Amory Blaine. You briefly meet him as a young boy living in St. Paul. In the start, Amory kisses a girl and then immediately tosses her off as used and much too loose for his liking - a perfect entry into the complicated mind of our young egoist, or our "romantic egoist" as Fitzgerald prefer call him.

Boasting a lavish and somewhat eccentric upbringing, the young character heads off to Princeton University where he romps with literature and sparks lively debates with his housemates. Over the course of his college experience, he falls in and out of success and love, drinking copiously along the way and finding himself both confused and enlightened about everything happening around him.

"Let the days move over - sadness and memory and pain recurred outside, and here, once more, before he went on to meet them he wanted to drift and be young."
- This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald

This Side of Paradise isn't dissimilar to reading poetry at times. Fitzgerald had a way of romantically wording things that isn't as apparent in some of his other work. Every sentence can be read several times over before realising the sheer importance of every single word which Fitzgerald chose to include. His debut novel is most certainly a character study more than anything else. Fitzgerald had a unique talent in creating characters, in which he could describe every innermost desire and feeling in a matter of sentences. This meant that, as a reader, you could become extremely familiar with a character within the first page of meeting them. This Side of Paradise follows Amory from childhood and well into early adulthood, but it would seem wrong to refer to it as a "coming of age" story. Rather, it is a study of how his character changes and developes, but stays much the same all along, ending with the perfunctory statement - "I know myself, but that is all."

If you are the type that demands action, this book is probably not for you. Skip to Gatsby. But if you are fascinated with the workings of a fictional character, then Paradise is an insightful read. Amory slips and slides around growing up, the loss of youth, the difference between sentimentality and romance, and why financial success and success of the name is so important. His thoughts and debates are stimulating and provoke much reflection in the reader. I still often think over many of Fitzgerald's words as well as his character Amory, who still really isn't sure which side paradise lands on. I would argue that the book ends without much conclusion to it at all. It's just a jumble of things to reflect over - a book which succeeds in its attempt to change the working of how the reader thinks and how they see the world around them. And thus, I would rate This Side of Paradise as an entirely successful piece of literature.

“I'm not sentimental - I'm as romantic as you are. The idea, you know, is that the sentimental person thinks things will last - the romantic person has a desperate confidence that they won't.”
- This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald


Meli said...

Ooh, I read Gatsby for the first time last summer and loved it, and have been meaning to read some more since then. I've got tender is the night stashed on my shelf, but maybe I'll look in to picking this one up too!

Anonymous said...

This novel is without a doubt my favorite! Definitely one that could be read over and over again.

SafiyaMarie said...

This is definitely on my summer reading list now :) It sounds so interesting. The fact that it doesnt come to a conclusion reminds me of The Catcher In The Rye if you've ever read that?

Anonymous said...

I love Fitzgerald. Have you seen Midnight in Paris? It's one of my favorite Woody Allen movies. I have an obsession with The Great Gatsby and the 1920s. I'm glad to see someone my age shares those interests.