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!

16 thoughts on “Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

  1. Oh, no. That's disappointing. I've never read Tender is the Night. But there is a used copy for sale @ the library that I had been eyeing. Now I won't eye it anymore.

  2. I put the book aside for a week or so. I didn't like The Great Gatsby either (but it isn't really very sexy to say that in the literary world since that book and Pride and Prejudice are considered the two greatest classics by tons of people). Rosemary is so forward. It doesn't make any sense. If you are going to have an affair with a married man, at least you could be subtle about it. She just walks up to Dick and says "I love you." Quite unbelievable.

  3. I feel the same as you. I read The Great Gatsby many moons ago and wasn't that impressed (been meaning to revisit it but haven't yet), but I had hopes for Tender is the Night – the plot description on the back of my Penguin was most intriguing. But no, it was a cold reading experience: I could never put my finger on why, thankfully *you* have in this post! 🙂

    I've just started reading Keats (I have no confidence at all with poetry so I'm taking it very slowly) and I'm really enjoying it so far (not yet made it to page 20, must confess). I shall go read Ode to a Nightingale now 🙂

  4. I agree. I found Rosemary's infatuation rather ridiculous as well. Perhaps the fact that she was sheltered by her mother could account for her immaturity, but she was a movie star and I find it unlikely she could be so naive as she, at times, seemed (yet, at other times she seemed quite sophisticated).

  5. The book left me with a weird feeling and the others in the reading group who did finish it, said it left them feeling "depressed" and "hollow". I couldn't see anything positive to be gleaned from it if I finished it.

    I'm so glad to hear that you are beginning an interest in poetry! I'm a poetry "newbie" myself and would love to slot in some to my schedule. Perhaps next year. At least I'm getting some exposure for the Summer Freak Language Challenge!

  6. It's funny how people can have such different reactions to the same book, because I absolutely loved this one. I thought it was a great portrayal of a marriage in decline and I loved the way Fitzgerald wrote about the emotions around this. Different strokes for different folks!

  7. I was wondering when a Tender Is the Night booklover would show up and I was hoping soon. I love to get different perspectives on books, so thanks for stopping by and adding yours, Sam!

    I didn't mind the content so much, although I possibly am a little more sensitive than usual after reading The Great Gatsby, Madame Bovary and a number of Zola's all close together. None of those books are particularly uplifting. In any case, even if the book is unpalatable or even if it has offensive subject matter, I want to be able to learn from it. You can pull something positive out of negative experiences. Yet with Tender is the Night, the depth was missing. I know that there are shallow, self-centred people in the world that struggle and make bad decisions ….. I don't need Fitzgerald to tell me that. But what I hoped he'd show was how those decisions affected not only situations but character ….. how negative experiences in life can be taken as a positive …… Wharton does this with brilliance in The House of Mirth, not even giving the reader a happy ending. But yes, I suppose there are vain people who destroy their lives and learn nothing from it but I don't want to read about it ….

    In any case, I'm going to search your blog for a review. I'm always open to other opinions to help me appreciate books, in fact, I would say most books I appreciate much more simply from reading/hearing the opinions of others. So fun to have others to help us learn!

  8. I agree with you about the lack of impact of the characters. The thing that I am most struck by is that Fitzgerald didn't manage to drum up in me even the slightest empathy for any of the characters. Nicole, in particular, is someone who is deserving of empathy, yet her character didn't draw any emotions other than disgust and boredom from me.

  9. Nicole was like an imposing piece of beautiful furniture, but perhaps that was Fitzgerald's point; she had become soulless due to the abuse she suffered as a young girl.

    I liked your post and how you gave some historical context to your review. It was very helpful to see what was going on at that time.

  10. I think Blogger ate my comment! When will I learn to copy long answers before hitting publish?

    I'm sorry Tender is the Night was such a bummer. I'm planning to read it at some point, though, since I've only read Fitzgerald's short stories and I think they are quite good. Have you ever read them? One of my favorites is "May Day", which (I think) is similar to The Great Gatsby in themes, representing a very shallow society and gaining gravitas along the way.

  11. It took Fitzgerald 7 years to write this book. Zelda was institutionalised. Fitz regretted the necessity of writing so much of ' Tender' drunk. That must have impaired his writing some way or another! (info from the book "Trip to Echo Spring, why writers drink" )

  12. Don't you just hate when it does that? I don't often have problems, but once it ate comments on three different blogs on the same day! Grr!

    Thanks for suggesting Fitzgerald's short stories. I will give them a try at some point. I have heard some good reviews of them and, if I don't like them, I don't feel like I have to invest in the whole book.

    The whole shallow society thing gets a little old after awhile. I know that certain authors have certain pet topics, but I find most can imbed them in their novels without their reader feeling that they are whacked over the head with them. It seems like Fitzgerald just goes whack, whack, whack without much subtlety.

  13. Ah, if he wrote it drunk, that makes complete sense to me! Certain ideas are disjointed and, as I mentioned, his wonderful description is not consistent. Thanks for this information, Nancy. Perhaps he had too much on his mind to pay careful attention to this novel.

  14. Hi Jason! Glad to see that you're still around. I can see that I felt very similar to you. You had a number of wonderfully descriptive adjectives: tedious, self-indulgent, verbose, repetitive ……. Sadly I just realized that's it's on my Guardian's 1000 list so if I want to check it off, I'm going to have to finish it. Ugh!

Thanks for visiting. I'd love to hear from you and have you join in the discussion!