Rarely has a short novel, a spume of brilliant fiction, so defined and illumined a national culture. To overstate the case slightly, America is The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald’s subtle masterpiece. This seems more so now than ever, when the 99 per cent (a phrase of Fitzgerald’s echoed by those occupying Wall Street) gaze on the extravagant 1 per cent with envy and justifiable outrage. It’s not for nothing that yet another film of the novel arrived this spring in cinemas across the US and the UK, adapted and directed by Baz Luhrmann and starring – who else? – Leonardo DiCaprio as the tale’s eponymous hero.
But no film can measure up to this book. It would be easier to squeeze a sunbeam between your finger and your thumb. With its shimmering portrait of the Jazz Age, its lyricism and its wry portrayal of the American character itself, the novel continues to challenge and rebuke readers,