I had read This Side of Paradise before, so I thought it would be rather easy to read, but I found that reading carefully meant looking up at least one word per page. This made reading quite hard and it took a lot of time. Nevertheless, it paid out in the end, as I fully understood the novel and laughed about many jokes I did not really understand the first time.
In addition, the style and especially the structure delighted me, since they are quite different from anything else I have read. The variance of techniques shown throughout the novel really interested me and several times, I was surprised how cleverly the author changed style and structure, which made me think repeatedly why he had just then chosen that specific style and not another.
I really like the picture Fitzgerald paints of the 20s. Life as an everlasting big party, where one is not concerned about mundane things like earning money or passing English-exams, is a life that I would certainly enjoy.
Maybe that is one of the reasons, why I can identify with Amory Blaine that good. I adore his way of life, his intelligence and his self-centeredness or actually his real center of attention: the pursuit of pleasure. Often, I have lain outside, watched the stars and wondered, why life was the way it is and why I did not seem to fit in it. That is something I have in common with Amory. Only that I am not consistent enough to renounce the life as it is and to live only for the values that I think are important. Especially the ending I liked a lot, as it made me rethink my self-concepts several times and will probably do so again
I also liked the plot of the story. The story of a rebellious youth that has to adjust to a world, which grows more complex and changes more rapidly than ever before seems to fit today at least as well as it fit 80 years ago.
However, even though there were many things I liked about this novel, there were some, I did not like. While I did understand many of the poems, there were quite a few, I could not figure out their importance to the plot or to the description of a character or anything else for that matter.
As much as I like the ending, it was impossible for me to figure out, how Amory was able to walk from New York City to Princeton in one day. Even if the ride with Mr. Ferrenby lasted for half an hour which would probably cut 40 km there would still be about 50 km left for him to walk. Knowing his physical condition, I doubt that he could do that. Moreover, when he says: I know myself, but that is all. (p. 261) as final line, I would really have liked to share his knowledge, for I could not find out, what exactly he meant in this statement.
Anyhow, as Edmund Wilson once wrote about this novel:
This Side of Paradise commits almost every sin that a novel can possibly commit: but it does not commit the unpardonable sin: it does not fail to live.
This is unquestionably true.
© 1999 by Timo Baumann at www.eichenblatt.de, all rights reserved.
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