Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“On the pleasant shore of the French Riviera, about half way between Marseilles and the Italian border, stands a large, proud, rose-coloured hotel.”

Early this year I read The Great Gatsby with, I’ll admit, some trepidation, since I’d read it in high school pretty much hated it. But my second exposure was much more pleasant and, if not my favourite book, I could definitely appreciate certain aspects of its structure, and especially Fitzgerald’s descriptive power.  So when my Goodreads group decided to read Tender is the Night, I was in with only minor hesitation.

Menton, South of France
source Wikipedia

Well, in spite of starting with a good attitude, the tenor of this book quickly extinguished it.  The story revolves around the characters of Dick and Nicole Diver: Dick’s descent from a respected psychoanalyst to an alcoholic has-been, and Nicole’s transformation out of the trauma of childhood abuse and neuroses, to become a strong, yet rather callous woman who eventually divorces her husband.  I made it slightly into Book 2 before I closed it for good.  The description of the possible incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father sickened me, and when a random black man was introduced with no real reason other than to move the plot along ….. well, actually I was never sure why he was introduced.  Perhaps if I kept reading I’d have found out, but the development was so shaky to begin with, I simply couldn’t see how Fitzgerald could pull together a plausible story. While he had moments of interesting description, the whole story seemed fragmented, like a jigsaw puzzle with a number of missing pieces.

Possibly autobiographical, at the very least, it is said that Fitzgerald drew from his own life experiences.  Yet Fitzgerald did not delve very deeply into the mental illness aspect, which lessened the impact of the characters and perhaps made their shallowness stand out more prominently.  And, if indeed it is autobiographical, Fitzgerald lumped himself (Dick) in with all the shallow people who had nothing better to do but party, cheat on their spouses and try to ignobly wiggle out of any trouble they found themselves in.

Villa Ephrusi, Cap-Saint-Jean-Ferrat
source Wikipedia

While reading Tender is the Night,  I felt as if there was a wall up between Fitzgerald and the reader.  He didn’t really speak to you as a narrator, neither did he connect through his characters.  It was a very sparse, removed style that, in this case, lacked any impact other than perhaps, shock. Yes, there are moments of beauty in his prose, but even those moments sometimes seem contrived.  In The Great Gatsby, his “prose moments” blended well with the story, but in this book they appear to be random sprinklings without making anything cohesive.

It’s not often that I don’t finish a classic but I just couldn’t make it through this drivel.  Will there be any more Fitzgerald’s in my future?  One never can say for sure, but I doubt it.

On a positive note, the title for this book was taken from the poem, Ode to a Nightngale by John Keats, which can be read here for those who are interested!

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

First edition 1925 (sourced Wikipedia)

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.”

Decadence, adultery, narcissism, vast wealth, idealistic love, betrayal, death, revenge, murder; a vast array of scope for a novel, and Fitzgerald delivers an impacting tale in The Great Gatsby.  Nick Carraway, a young man from the Midwest, begins to form a relationship with his neighbour, the wealthy Jay Gatsby and eventually learns of Gatsby’s connection to his cousin, Daisy.  Daisy, who is married to Tom Buchanan, while casually enduring her husband’s adulterous relationships, has led a very vapid and frivilous life amongst the society scene of the 1920s.  When Gatsby reappears in her life, their rekindled romance sets off a series of tragic events, the repercussions reverberating through the lives of all the characters.

Gatsby, the created man; Gatsby, the idealist, a man who is love with an image that formed five years earlier, and that he has nurtured through time.  Did I understand his infatuation with Daisy?  No, but I sympathized with it.  He had grown up isolated, broke relations with his parents reasonably early on and had no one in his life to set a good example that he could draw from.  Daisy was perhaps the only person whom he had loved, and so he loved her passionately, unrealistically and terminally.  And he realized, that he would need money to keep her love.  When Nick Carraway says to him, “She’s [Daisy’s] got an indiscreet voice …. It’s full of —-“, Gatsby answers, “Her voice is full of money.”  Even though he knows what she is like, and has known from the beginning, is he desperately trying to hold on to his fantasy of her —- this illusion of perfection — because he has nothing else?  Gatsby fails to examine any of the decisions he makes in his life ……… perhaps he truly believes that money can buy him happiness and cannot see the superficiality of the life and people with whom he surrounds himself.  His life is built on illusion and throughout the novel we hear the faint ticking of the bomb that will shatter his misperceptions.

The Plaza Hotel in the early 1920s
(source Wikipedia)

As for Nick Carraway, I felt uncomfortable with him as the narrator.  He went to unusual lengths at the beginning of the novel to establish his credibility with the reader, and if his observations are to be believed, he was the only one in the novel with any compassion, discernment or standards.  While the society he moves in is portrayed in a harsh, decadent, unforgiving light, he is the angel that hovers above it, the star that shines through it.  He is the only one who cares for Gatsby, the only one with a moral compass.  I had a difficult time buying into his golden-boy image.

The tragedy of this novel is a wasted life.  In spite of the grandeur, in spite of his fame and money, Gatsby left no real lasting effect on anyone, other than perhaps Nick Carraway.  He buried himself behind a persona, only emerging to be drawn towards the flame of Daisy and then perishing, as his wings brushed the heat of her consuming light.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”