I’d long been looking forward to reading This Side of Paradise, but the experience didn’t live up to my expectations.
For the first 20 pages or so, I was totally into it–I thought the characters were funny and strange and perfectly 1920s. I was reminded of Fitzgerald’s short story “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” that I read earlier this year and adored. Unfortunately, the book lost my interest pretty quickly.
This Side of Paradise is quite autobiographical for Fitzgerald and it was his first major novel, but it in no way can live up to the glory of The Great Gatsby. Sure, Gatsby is a pretty perfect novel, so it’s hard to measure up, but the story in This Side of Paradise just drags so much it’s hard to stay focused.
One thought I had while reading: based on the other Fitzgerald I’ve read (which isn’t a lot), I think his strength is really in writing compelling female characters. In both Gatsby and “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” the women are the most interesting characters, and the same is true for This Side of Paradise. Unfortunately, the women in this novel flit in and out of the action so quickly that you can’t latch on to them and are forced into listening to the grumblings of a privileged young man. Sigh.
Now I’m starting to read one of my Christmas gifts, Martin McDonagh’s play The Cripple of Inishmaan, which Daniel Radcliffe did on Broadway in 2014. I loved the play when I saw it, so I’m sure to end 2015 on a high note.