Deliberate Concealment - Mtutuzeli NyokaThe Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is an extraordinary novel on many levels. The writer magnificently draws a portrait of America in the 20s-an era of unprecedented prosperity that transformed and even disfigured the country. It was the Jazz Age,-a world of the beautiful and the damned. It was an epoch of bright lights, idleness, self indulgence, dreams, boom and doom. Unrestrained materialism expanded moral boundaries, trampled on values, and shaped the aspirations of an entire nation.

Nick Carraway, the narrator of the story, was seduced by this lifestyle and mesmerized by its personalities. Jay Gatsby, his rich neighbour, idolized wealth and threw wild parties. There was music from his house through the summer nights.

In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars…..On week-ends his Rolls-Royce became an omnibus, bearing parties to and from the city between nine in the morning and long past midnight, while his station wagon scampered like a brisk yellow bug to meet all trains….At least once a fortnight a corps of caterers came down with several hundred feet of canvas and enough colored lights to make a Christmas tree of Gatsby’s enormous garden…By seven o’clock the orchestra has arrived, no thin five-piece affair, but a whole pitful of oboes and trombones and saxophones and viols and cornets and piccolos, and low and high drums.”

Affluence was the fingerprint of America in the 1920s, and decadent young love was engraved in its soul. Other than his lavish parties, Jay Gatsby remained a character of many enigmas. His real identity and origins were a mystery, and his trade a matter of whispered speculation. While some saw genius in him, others suspected menace and even madness. His greed and ambition were, however, profoundly stirred by the mood of the time. His only creed and religion, like many in his small and closeted society, was money

Across the bay from Nick’s house lived Daisy Buchanan and her rich husband, Tom. Nick learns that his new friend Jay Gatsby once knew Daisy and was still enamored of her. His lavish parties were an attempt to impress her. Gatsby asks Nick to arrange a meeting between him and Daisy. The pair soon meet, and with their old love rekindled they begin a passionate affair. Tom Buchanan discovers his wife’s affair with Gatsby and is indignant though he also has an affair with a Myrtle Wilson. Illicit romantic entanglements defined the lives of the rich.

From here, the author delightfully provides an astonishing account of doomed love. The reader observes the destruction of Gatsby’s life. On a drive back home to Long Island from the city, Nick, his girlfriend, Jordan, and Tom discover that Gatsby’s car has struck and killed Myrtle Wilson, Tom’s lover. Nick later learns from Gatsby that Daisy was driving when the car hit Myrtle, but Gatsby intends to take the blame.

The reader asks himself at this point of Jay Gatsby: ‘How do I describe thee? Was he stricken by obsessive behaviour? What kind of man would take responsibility for a crime that he didn’t commit? The night of the accident, floating in air of melancholy, Gatsby spent the evening crouched outside Daisy’s house, worried sick about her. A sort of madness had, it seemed, seized up on him. He didn’t seem at all concerned about Myrtle Wilson’s fate.

Tom, wilfully tells Myrtle’s husband, George, that Gatsby was the driver of the car that killed his wife. He might as well had driven the dagger into Gatsby’s heart because George believed that the driver of the car must have been the lover of his unfaithful wife. He finds Gatsby swimming in the pool of his mansion, shoots him, and then takes his life. Somehow, I don’t think Gatsby would have lamented his death since in his love-sick mind, he had sacrificed himself for someone he dearly loved.

While many of Gatsby’s friends stayed away after his death, his father, the man Gatsby never once publicly acknowledged, appears. The funeral was a modest affair compared to his wild parties. There were three cars- the first a motor hearse, followed by the limousine with his father, the minister, and Nick Carraway in it, and in the third car, there were only three servants and the postman.

Daisy Buchanan, the first “nice girl” that Jay Gatsby ever knew, never showed up. She had already withdrawn into her appalingly artificial, superficial, and selfish world….“redolent of orchids and pleasant, cheerful snobbery and orchestras…” To compare Gatsby and Daisy’s romance to that of Romeo and Juliet would be an insult to love. Will anything good happen to Tom and Daisy Buchanan? The reader can only wish them a sea of troubles, for they are the epitome of villainy.

The Great Gatsby is a beautifully written tragedy-a narrative of mad ambitions and unfulfilled dreams. Fitzgerald’s book provides a window into a world where there are no heroes, little or no honor, decency or loyalty. In many ways, this novel is a scathing indictment, and even a prophesy of the self-destruction, of that world.



Deliberate Concealment - Mtutuzeli NyokaIt is Harold Pinter’s brilliant movie that led me to read The French Lieutenants’ Woman. The haunting image of the motionless and mythical figure clad in black, staring out to sea at the edge of The Cobb, sets the scene for an uncannily beautiful movie.

I first read the book in 1981. The copy was old, from the local book exchange, with its cover torn. I was twenty-one, a medical student, and I had not read much contemporary literature. In a most masterful fashion, the author transports us into the nineteenth-century-an era I knew little about. The reader is allowed to listen in, to a wide range of discourse among the story’s unforgettable characters-the well born as well as the plebs.

What then follows is an intriguing, philosophical and even humorous narrative. It is thick with mystery and full of memorable words and verse.

But where the telescopist would have been at sea himself was with the other figure on that sombre, curving mole. It stood right at the seawardmost end, apparently leaning against an old cannon-barrel up-ended as a bollard. It clothes were black. The wind moved them, but the figure stood motionless, staring or to sea, more like a living memorial to the drowned, a figure from myth, than any proper fragment of the petty provincial day.”

Watching the “forlorn” figure, Sarah Woodruff, clad in black, are the doomed lovers: Charles Smithson, one of London’s most handsome and eligible bachelors, and his fiancée, Ernestina Freeman. Sarah is an enigmatic character believed to be mad and ostracized because of her affair with a French officer, who later abandoned her. But, when Charles first laid eyes on her , there was to him no madness in her face: no mask and no hysteria. If there was any madness, it was in society for its lack of empathy for the woman’s sorrow.

Even as Sarah turned to look at him: “it was not so much what was positively in that face which remained with him after that first meeting, but all that was not as he had expected; for theirs was an age when the favoured feminine look was the demure, the obedient, the shy.”

Even though Sarah’slook” lasted for no more than a few seconds, it lit a fire in Charles, leading to his rejection of values that were the foundation of his Victorian society. Like the Ryabovich, in Chekov’s story “The Kiss”, driven to despair by a kiss from a strange woman, the “look” from Sarah causes Charles mad exultation. It is the most pivotal moment in the book. The woman’s “look” destroys Charles. He loses control, and an obsession for Sarah takes over his heart.

The book is mainly about the apocalyptic convergence of their paths. One day, like a docile poodle, Charles follows Sarah into the woods:

I have come because I have satisfied myself that you do indeed need help. And although I still don’t understand why you should have honoured me by interesting me in your…” he faltered here, for he was about to say “case”, which would have betrayed that he was playing doctor as well as the gentleman: “……I have come prepared to listen to what you wished me to hear.”

I know a secluded place nearby. May we go there?” she said.

In an act of idiocy, Charles throws in his lot with her. From the beginning of the book, the reader can almost smell the fate awaiting him. We accompany Charles in his doomed journey, with sadness and pity. We ask ourselves: why does a man forsake his standing for a woman he hardly knows. Perhaps there was a part of his fickle soul that he would not allow society to rule over. For Sarah, Charles was the dupe of all ages, a tool to be used to stick a dagger, metaphorically, into the very heart of high society.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman, a book with two endings, is a charming tale and is meticulously written. John Fowles peoples his story with many interesting characters. The reader is equally captivated by the book’s beginning as well the end. The writer is very much the craftsman, with almost every sentence perfect.

Over a half century after its first publication, its theme is still fresh since modern societies still retain the two-fold paradigm of the rich, destined to a life of priviledge, and the wretched fate of the poor. Strangely, many of our lives have a presence in the book, evoked less literally than philosophically. A novel that in my youth felt so foreign contained a chart of my future and the reckless decisions I was to make with my life.