Book Review: F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned

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‘We can all pass to our eternal rest knowing we’ve left the world a little better for having lived in it.’

Reading Ages: 13+
Category: Classical Fiction
Overall Rating: ★★★★★

I had this book recommended to me by an old family friend, who told me he considered it more powerful than any other work by Fitzgerald. Having read and loved Gatsby, and hearing it hailed as the perfect epitome of the Romance and futile glamour of the Jazz Age, I was intrigued to see if The Beautiful and Damned could improve upon it. Happily, I was not disappointed.

F. Scott Fitzgerald is a true puppeteer and master of drama and emotion throughout the novel, generating tension so palpable in certain passages that I felt myself cringing, eighty years on from the lives of Anthony and Gloria. The prose is tough, yet stunningly crystalline: the description at times is capable of taking your breath away, littered with fantastically poetic metaphors and similes alike. This language almost becomes an extended simile in itself for the descent of the Jazz Age: the extravagant, opulent phrases seem to condense into such a delicate, fragile form that it would take but the slightest breeze to tear it beyond recognition; and tear it Fitzgerald does.

The demise of a young, magnetic couple’s lives is tracked with an almost theatrical passion. Fitzgerald’s third person narrator seems to look disapprovingly on from the sidelines, but never once truly stands in judgement of the characters. His censure does come across very strongly, though, emerging as waves of paranoia presented to the reader, leading us to conclusions about characters which we feel concur with his own.

The novel astounded me; it took me several weeks to sit myself down and face writing a review, as there is simply no way of describing the utterly clinical authority with which each sentence is laid down, mesmerising and thrilling. The distance and starkness of the characters’ shallowness, of their pale beauty and flimsy reality is presented in a slow series of waves, ebbing and flowing between each page. The division of the chapters contributes to this feeling of growing tension, their titles displaying the story with an almost textbook-like didacticism.

In conclusion, to give The Beautiful and Damned anything less than five stars would be inconceivable, and I must say that while I doubted it possible, I have come to the same opinion as my old friend: if it is the moral descent of the Jazz Age you seek, this novel will be more than worth your time.

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