Under the Red White and Blue: Greil Marcus’s Gatsby marred by self-indulgence

Book review: Accounts of Great Gatsby adaptations yield scant critical insight

American actors Mia Farrow, as Daisy Buchanan, and Robert Redford, as Jay Gatsby, gaze into one another’s eyes in a scene from The Great Gatsby (1974) based on the novel by F Scott Fitzgerald and directed by Jack Clayton. Photograph: Paramount Pictures/Getty

American actors Mia Farrow, as Daisy Buchanan, and Robert Redford, as Jay Gatsby, gaze into one another’s eyes in a scene from The Great Gatsby (1974) based on the novel by F Scott Fitzgerald and directed by Jack Clayton. Photograph: Paramount Pictures/Getty

Any work about The Great Gatsby partakes of that source material’s magic, basking in its refulgence. Greil Marcus’s Under the Red White and Blue layers on the lustre, promising the encounter of a first-rate critical intellect – author of the brilliant Mystery Train, an attempt in part to fathom the US from the work of select recording artists – with a towering and uncanny American novel, one still read, not out of patriotic duty or grim pedagogical resolution, or as a challenge like forswearing alcohol for a month, but for deep, abiding pleasure.

“One . . . reason . . . Gatsby has remained alive is that it absorbed the ferment of its time,” writes Marcus. The ultimate period piece then; yet, timeless. Consider the mythic overtones Fitzgerald loaded into his text: Jacob’s Ladder materialising for a lovelorn adolescent Gatsby pining for Daisy in Louisville: “Out of the corner of his eye Gatsby saw that the blocks of the sidewalk really formed a ladder and mounted to a secret place above the trees – he could climb to it.”

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