I admit, I may have approached this book with a certain apprehension. After my unpleasant experience with D H Lawrence, and also being a self-proclaimed critic of the Modernists in general (even you, Virginia Woolf, even you), I wasn’t too keen on starting this one. Truth is, I really should have been.
Tender is the Night is, at first, a little creepy, if you’re familiar with Fitzgerald and his married life. His wife, Zelda, was schizophrenic, and made his life a living hell. The poor guy did the only thing he knew he could do and wrote about it to deal with the stress, immortalizing her as the turbulent, mad Nicole Diver. All well and good there, kind of creepily autobiographical, but it’s fine.
But then there’s an extra layer of creepy because holy shit wait her husband used to be her therapist??????
Isn’t this why we have ethical laws?!
The premise of the story is simple enough: Dick Diver, married to Nicole, is in an unhappy marriage with a woman who is incredibly mentally ill. Dick, who seems to have a serious thing for younger women, has an affair with a film star who’s only just turned eighteen. The rest of the story is the deterioration of both Dick and his marriage, as Nicole somehow seems to come out of the whole thing stronger. As one of my old literature professors used to say, Dick is a diver, he goes down, while Nicole goes up. She’s like a parasite, taking all his happiness from him to fuel her own life.
The novel is easy to read and follow, a stark difference from Women in Love, which you will all remember I actually despised. The characters might not be incredibly likable, but they’re very real characters with very real worries. I loved reading this, immersing myself into the world of 1920s psychology and the upper class worries of the time. By the end of the book, I was almost sad to see the characters go, which speaks volumes about the way Fitzgerald can write a believable and likable cast of characters.
Kudos there, mate.
Final rating: 4/5. Any literature nerd has to read this.
Quotes I Liked: