Hmm. That wasn’t what I was expecting.
Emerging from the 350 odd pages of this novel, I felt that I had in my hands something very different to the book I had been excited to read.
After I read The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald cemented himself a place on the (highly exclusive) ‘List of Deanna’s Favourite Authors’, a standing reserved for those whose books leave me feeling irrevocably changed. However, whilst Tender is the Night is an excellent novel, full of subtleties and clever flourishes, I had to knock off two of the stars I was expecting to give.
Yes, Fitzgerald’s writing is velvet in prose, but this book was so hard to relate to!
To sum up the plot without spoilers: Rosemary is a young starlet on holiday in the French Riviera, where she meets the beautiful couple, Dick and Nicole Diver. As the novel progresses, it becomes clear that their perfect appearance is only one facet of a deeply troubled marriage.
As always, the beauty of Fitzgerald’s writing is tempered by dark underlying themes, in this case madness, vanity, and the feeling of futility that comes hand-in-hand with getting too much of a good thing. It is a gorgeous read, evoking the tragic frivolity of the twenties with the author’s characteristic dazzle and charm.
The book is split into three proportioned chunks, so it slips down with relative ease, at least as far as the classics go. The pace is not its main selling point, but this novel avoids being labelled slow by the consistent tension, and the characters, whilst I did not find them relatable, are complex in their own different ways. This gives Tender some philosophical weightiness, but it manages to retain a clear sense of overall purpose.
I think the reasons this book didn’t quite do it for me are of personal taste. More so than in Gatsby, Fitzgerald here leans heavily towards a rampant wealth aesthetic. Being a minimum-wage student, I can see how there is a conflict between my experiences and those of the characters. Also, I confess my naïve heart. I admit that perhaps it is only possible to relate to the tumultuous end of a great love if you truly know what love is.