The mysterious Jay Gatsby uses his fabulous wealth to create an enchanted world fit for his former love, Daisy Buchanan, now married to Tom.
Daisy, though, is a romanticised figment of his own imagination, and the extraordinary world that he creates is equally illusory.
He gives lavish, legendary, parties where the guests and gate-crashers enjoy free-flowing champagne and cocktails and carefree hospitality.
It is easy for modern readers to forget that the story takes place in the time of Prohibition (1920 to 1933) something that would have been immediately apparent when the book was first published.
It enforces the nature of the unreal world that Gatsby creates, beyond the reach of the law and the police.
But a more sinister reality begins to break through, as idealised romantic figures prove to have human frailties and selfish motivations, and the grandiose world of Gatsby's creation crumbles and disillusion turns to tragedy.
A new film, directed by Baz Luhrmann and starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby and Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan will be released in 2012.