Fitzgerald's first novel, reprinted in the handsome Everyman's Library series of literary classic, uses numerous formal experiments to tell the story of Amory Blaine, as he grows up during the crazy years following the First World War. It also contains a new introduction by Craig Raine that describes critical and popular reception of the book when it came out in 1920.
Spotlight customer reviews:
Customer Rating: Summary: A brilliant, serious, and triumphant first novel Comment: Fitzgerald's brilliant, serious, and triumphant first novel can be summarized as follows: Bittersweet experience transmutes Amory Blaine's youthful enthusiasm for wealth and romance and art into a mature understanding of self and of the need to serve others.
Fitzgerald is a watercolorist, not an oil painter. He conveys meaning with deft gestures that allow a part (of a room, a person, a conversation, etc.) to suggest the whole. His insights into the social dynamics of wealth, romance, and art dazzle the reader from the first page to the last.
This Side of Paradise isn't a perfect novel, but it is a very fine first novel and a timeless one, and anyone lucky enough these days to read it before reading The Great Gatsby will enjoy Gatsby all the more. The book ends with one of the finest final sentences in all of western literature. Customer Rating: Summary: Comforting Comment: It's an enormous comfort to find that the 24 year old Fitzgerald did not produce a perfect novel. It's not as comforting to know that the 29 year old Fitzgerald did. Ah well, the Beatles were done being the Beatles before they were 30.
This book is no pleasure to read unless you're interested in seeing FSF develop, and this is his start. This is an interesting lens on Gatsby and reveals some of the more subtle techniques by being used crudely here. The primary similarity is the use of satire in the real old Satyricon sense. In both novels, there's a devoted attempt to meticulously record his surrounding in order to hold their trappings up to ridicule.
The problem with This Side of Paradise is that it's a bildungsroman and a fairly autobiographical one at that. The self-criticism and self-knowledge that is necessary to declare one's own quest for adulthood as absurd isn't available to one immediately upon entering it (See Stephen in Ulysses for a successful version - decades older). That's sort of the problem with the whole work. F keeps falling in and out of admiration for Amory, and consequently, Amory is never a reliable lens on his world. It's kind of a wreck.
This book made Maxwell Perkins's career at Scribner, and so TSOP could be said to have been crucial to the development of Hemingway, Wolfe, et al. What made Perkins think that this was so revolutionary? Perhaps some was scandalous - She's been kissed many times! - it's not so shocking now. Perhaps it showed a world not seen before, St. Paul's, Princeton. Perhaps he was the first voice of a generation. Maybe Perkins just had an unbelievable eye for talent. The evidence is there if you look hard enough. It's up to the duly warned potential reader to decide whether they want to.
However, as an inspiration to young writers out there. Get going. Write a bad book. Write another bad book. Then write a great one. Customer Rating: Summary: The first display of Fitzgerald's talent Comment: F. Scott Fitzgerald's novels are a one trick pony in the sense that he writes about the same time period (the 1920's), the same kind of people (rich or successful Americans) and protagonists who suffer the same fate (men whose ultimate failures are the result of their own shortcomings and the influence of women). His works are also highly autobiographical. Thus to read Fitzgerald with understanding one should start at the beginning (This Side of Paradise), move to the full bloom of his talent (The Great Gatsby) and culminate at the end (Tender is the Night). It would help to read a good biography along the way. The other option is to just read Gatsby which is one of the finest American novels ever written.
This Side of Paradise is his first novel and here we see both the promise of the character, Amory Blaine, and the author. On the very first page of the novel Fitzgerald displays his talent for words in his description of Amory's mother: "All in all Beatrice O'Hara absorbed the sort of education that will be quite impossible ever again; a tutelage measured by the number of things and people one could be contemptuous of and charming about; a culture rich in all the arts and traditions barren of all ideas in the last of those days when the great gardener clipped the inferior roses to produce one perfect bud." This lengthy sentence, despite its seeming awkwardness, tells us all we need to know about Beatrice and suggests that the son will share the same qualities. Other examples of Fitzgerald's facility with words follow. On page 45 he describes Isabelle thusly: "She paused at the top of the staircase. The sensations attributed to divers on springboards, leading ladies on opening nights, and lumpy, husky young men on the day of the Big Game, crowded through her. She should have descended to a burst of drums or a discordant blend of themes from `Thais' and `Carmen.' She had never been so curious about her appearance, she had never been so satisfied with it. She has been sixteen years old for six months." And on page 47 is Isabelle's description of Amory: "she had expected him to be dark and of garter-advertisement slenderness." Only Fitzgerald could come up with such vivid and evocative descriptions.
One fault of the book is that it is too episodic without clear transitions. First Amory is a child, then a student at Princeton, then a soldier (although we really do not see this part of this life and it seems to have not affected him), then a lover of Rosalind, then at loose ends, then has a relationship with Eleanor, then the book ends with Amory alone in the world and spouting socialist maxims. It is hard to picture this individual, who for 200 pages has been totally absorbed with himself, suddenly developing a social conscience!
Another problem I have is that Fitzgerald tries too hard to show his education. The book is full of poetry and literary references. It is written much as a college student would write a paper to try to impress the professor and thus get a high grade, rather than in a manner that is appropriate to the telling of a story. Fitzgerald is, of course, at this point in his life not far removed from Princeton and perhaps is still writing as a college student.
In the end, then, we should read This Side of Paradise for the beauty of the language and not be overly concerned with the story line and characters.
Customer Rating: Summary: And now, real life begins... Comment: Fitzgerald's first novel, full of autobiographical undertones, has already the mark of the Lost Generation: a US that is frivolous, nouveau riche, at the same time innocent and perverse. Amory Blaine is the scion of a young American fortune. He's handsome, well read, and spoiled by his eccentric, alcoholic, and overpossessive mother, Beatrice, who gives him a bookish education while at the same time she carries him around the US, where he mixes with all kinds of people. During a stage of drinking problems, Beatrice sends his son to live with some relatives in Minneapolis, where Amory begins his flirting career with rich brats. Then comes life in Princeton, his first real love, his passive service in WWI, his first job in advertising, and a maturing process expressed as the full acceptance of egocentrism, which simultaneously adopts and kills his former religious and altruistic spirit. Religion becomes not so much conviction and mysticism, but a mere reference and moral containment. Similarly, Beauty stops meaning the appreciation of a transcendental experience, to be left only as an aesthetic perception of Pleasure. Amory Blaine becomes a kind of disenchanted Oscar Wilde, less caustic and more introspective. The game of playing to be Dorian Gray finishes in front of the difficulties of life, and what remains is not the criminal being, but the eternal dilettante. The apparent frivolity and emptiness of Amory's story is more than redeemed by the the poetic quality of the prose. Behind the merry life of a rich kid, the XX century is full fledged already: "a new generation grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken".
Although not yet in league with successive works, especially "The Great Gatsby", this book gives a good appreciation of how Fitzgerald would develop as a writer. Customer Rating: Summary: At times sophomoric but ultimately dazzling and memorable Comment: In the beginning of the book, I was turned off by its seeming self-indulgent tone and nature. A brilliant, handsome, self-centered young man goes to prep school, then to Princeton, then out in into the world. The story seemed obviously autobiographical, and I knew what had happened to F. Scott Fitzgerald: a short, romantic but unpleasant, alcoholic life. So I read on, with the thought, "This is explaining why his life was such a disaster", so maybe that can be a reason to keep reading. (Also, I wrote a lot of largely autobiographical, very poor -- not that This Side of Paradise was poor in any way -- fiction when I was in my twenties, so maybe that was bothering me, as I identified too much with Fitzgerald's self-obsession.) And, as Amory Blaine's (the Fitzgerald-like protagonist's) story progressed, it became more entrancing and the self-centeredness less an obstacle and more of the heart of the novel itself. In the end, I would have to summarize that it was a beautiful, brilliant, compelling book, at least as good as Fitzgerald's other work. It's about the experience of the transition from childhood to adult life as viewed by a priviledged (although he wastes/loses his advantages), wonderful (if not very likable at times), artistic genius -- expressed aptly through prose as well as poetry and playscript-type sequences.