New Read: This Side of Paradise

Some years ago now I won a beautiful set of Alma Classics’ reprints of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s four novels. Since then I have slowly worked my way through them. Starting with, undoubtedly the most famous, The Great Gatsby, followed by Tender is the Night and The Beautiful and Damned. Having struggled with the generally unlikeable characters, it was with some trepidation that I picked up the final book in my set: This Side of Paradise.

Fitzgerald’s debut novel, This Side of Paradise, was published in 1920 and was an instant critical and commercial success. It charts the life of Amory Blaine, an ambitious young man loosely based on the author himself, who grows up in a well-heeled Midwest home, boards at St Regis’ and then goes on to study at Princeton, where he starts frequenting the circles of high society as an aspiring writer. However as Amory experiences failure and frustrations in his college work, love life and his career, his youthful enthusiasm gradually descends into disillusionment, cynicism and a life of idle dissolution.

Unfortunately my fears were proved to be correct: Amory Blaine is not a particularly likeable character… From the start he is an odd, lonely and aloof child, due a lot to his unusual relationship with his mother, who he is always refers to as Beatrice. When a kindly professor at St Regis’ tries to advise him on making friends he scornfully refuses his help, because he sees himself as above his peers. Then in Princeton his egotistical traits just flourish! However during this time he does make friends with the outgoing Kerry Holiday; Kerry’s hardworking brother Burne, and the diligent writer Tom D’Invilliers.

Sadly many of his friendships dwindle and disappear, as Amory can’t seem to make decisive decisions and refuses to believe he may need to change or adapt. This is much the same reason for his doomed love affairs too. First with the vacuous Isabelle; then the virtuous Clara; next the spoilt Rosalind and finally, the rebellious, maybe a little unhinged, Eleanor. Although I must admit I found it all quite gripping – particularly by the genuine love that Amory shared with Rosalind and the terrible choice that she had to make for both their sakes.

Of course there is reason for our unlikeable Amory, his heartache and his feckless, high living: Fitzgerald was writing a critical account of the era he was living in. While to us looking back the Jazz Age is a time of glamour, glitz and hedonism, Fitzgerald digs deeper under the thin, superficial veneer to the darker side beneath. Here are the themes of disillusionment, addiction and depression that would go on to feature in all his major works. All of which is brought to life in some beautiful prose, but for me to love it I just needed a little ray of hope. Instead I reached the end to find no real hope or resolution for poor Amory!

In conclusion, I thought This Side of Paradise was a beautifully written, sometimes gripping, satirical portrait of the golden Jazz Age. While I don’t think Fitzgerald’s work is really for me, I am glad I persevered because these are important works of literature and social commentary. Okay read.

Have you read this? Or any of Fitzgerald’s other novels? Fan or not?

This is book 1/50 for my Classics Club II reading challenge.

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20 thoughts on “New Read: This Side of Paradise

  1. I’m not really a fan of Fitzgerald. I’ve only read Gatsby and Benjamin Button – Button was okay, but meh on Gatsby. I will eventually re-read it as part of the classics club.

  2. Well, I must say you nailed it Jessica. The slice of life and the characters that Fitzgerald showed us were not one bit admirable but he wrote about it all so beautifully.

    1. Ali, I agree that this it is not as good as The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night, but then as his debut novel maybe that is to be expected; and if I am truly honest I had a problem with unlikeable characters in all his novels! However this edition does have a gorgeous cover!

  3. I don’t think Fitzgerald is an author for me either – I have read The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night but couldn’t connect with any of the characters and haven’t been tempted to try his other books. I’m glad you still found some things to like about this book even if you didn’t love it overall.

    1. Helen, it is comforting to hear I am not the only one who finds Fitzgerald is not for them. Of all of his books, I found The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night the best, so I doubt you would like The Beautiful and Damned or this any more.

  4. I love Gatsby with every fibre of my being. It blew me away the first time I read it, and on every re-read since. However, I then read my way through nearly all his other stuff and never felt the same way about them. I’ve put Tender is the Night on my CC list for a re-read to see if the passing years (decades!) will have made me appreciate it any more, but till then, I’m with you – I find him hugely skilled as a writer but can’t summon up real love for his books… except Gatsby.

    1. FF, I’m glad, like me, that you find Fitzgerald hugely skilled as a writer but can’t summon up any real love for his books. However while I enjoyed The Great Gatsby the most, I’m afraid I didn’t love the one either! Sorry!

  5. Great review, Jessica! I love the cover, by the way. I hadn’t contemplated on reading this one but perhaps I will. I loved The Great Gatsby and liked The Beautiful and Damned a great deal. Read half of Tender Is the Night before putting aside for being bored senseless. I have the feeling I would like this one, for the social commentary that is, since it seems to resemble The Beautiful and Damned.

    1. Thank you Carmen, I am so pleased you enjoyed this review so much! It really is such a beautiful cover, just a shame I didn’t love the book as much 😛 And I would agree that this most resembles The Beautiful and Damned so you may enjoy this one more than Tender is the Night.

  6. This was one of Margaret Mitchell’s favorite books. 🙂 For that reason it’s on my club list. Congrats on finishing the first off your second club list. 😀

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