“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|
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|
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.