Saturday, 12 January 2013

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald


I read Tender is the Night last weekend for the Classics Club Readathon but have only now got the time to sit down and write about my thoughts properly (I blame going back to work).  Before picking up this book, I had read The Great Gatsby (my review), which I liked but not as much as I had hoped.  I found the themes interesting but felt that the writing was too detached and failed to make an emotional connection with the characters.  Tender is the Night is the opposite of that; it's an emotionally raw, utterly miserable book and it had me captivated from the moment I picked it up.

We start the book with Rosemary Hoyt, a young actress on holiday in the French Riviera in the 1920s.  On the beach she meets Dick and Nicole Diver, a rich married couple who have drawn people to them by their wealth, charisma and lifestyle.  Rosemary imagines herself instantly in love with Dick and the story seems to be a straightforward tale of possible adultery.  But then things change about a third of the way through the novel when we jump back in time to when Dick and Nicole met, at a psychiatric facility where Nicole was being treated.  From this point on, Tender is the Night is the story of the steady decline of their marriage and nothing is spared.  Nicole's early reliance on Dick feeds into his need to be loved and adored and this forever prevents them from being happy together.  I don't know too much about Fitzgerald but much of Tender is the Night seems to be based on his experiences with his wife, Zelda, who also underwent treatment for mental illness.

Nicole is fabulously wealthy and much of the novel is taken up with their attempts to 'stay busy', by constantly visiting new places, going out every day and 'never being too tired for anything'.  I've seen reviews of the book criticising it as it's hard to feel sympathy for the ultra-rich, but this wasn't a problem for me.  Happiness doesn't depend on your bank balance and the impact of mental illness is felt right across classes.  It's soon apparent that the illusion of happiness around the Divers that draws others to them is just that, an illusion.  Sure, I'd love to own a home in the French Riveria and not have to work if I didn't feel like it, but I'd much rather be emotionally fulfilled and not have the constant need for external distractions.

It was obvious that some of the novel was based on Fitzgerald's own experiences as everything felt so real, all the complex emotions that go into a marriage, whether it is a happy one or not.  The decline of their marriage is protracted and utterly miserable to read about, as they did once genuinely love one another.  What I took from this book is the importance of both people in a relationship having the space to grow and be their own people, and to interact as equals. For the Divers, Dick was always the protector and Nicole the patient from the clinic.  This meant that whenever Nicole showed signs of independence, their relationship was threatened.   Dick's need to be adored was his weakness;

"....realising this power, he had made his choice, chosen Ophelia, chosen the sweet poison and drunk it. Wanting above all to be brave and kind, he had wanted, even more than that, to be loved."

It goes without saying that Tender is the Night is beautifully written.  It's not a book to rush through, but one to read slowly and marvel at the lyrical prose.  It didn't make me happy to read it, but it certainly had a powerful impact on me.  I'm glad I waited until I was well into my twenties and married myself before picking it up.  I know that The Great Gatsby is supposedly the 'Great American Novel', but Tender is the Night is the saddest and yet most wonderful book I've read in a long, long time.

Source: Personal copy
First Published: 1934
My Edition: Vintage, 2010
Score: 5 out of 5
Classics Club: Book 6/72 (my list is here).

34 comments:

  1. I have Tender is the Night on my bookshelf. After finally getting around to reading Gatsby last year, I didn't think I'd be reading any more Fitzgerald for awhile. Not because I didn't like it, but because I have so much else to read. But now I think I'll have to move Tender is the Night up higher on my priority list.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have that too many books, too little time problem too, which is why I am glad the Classics Club is making me read all the classics I've intended to for years!

      Delete
  2. I can't wait to read it, being The Great Gatsby one of my favourite books ever.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wonder how I would feel about Gatsby on a second read...

      Delete
  3. Not being married or ever in love, I don't know if I'll enjoy this classic until later on in my life, haha :D I will definitely add it to my list of classics to read!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe one for the future? I know I wouldn't have appreciated it when I was younger.

      Delete
  4. I can't remember if I put this on my list for the Classics Club, but I do hope to get to it soon. I *think* I read this when I was a teen but I'd like to read it now. I love revisiting books as an adult :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm like that with my classics club list - I keep picking up a lot of books that I think are on my list but then they aren't (*cough* War & Peace *cough*).
      It's amazing how your reactions to books can change with time.

      Delete
  5. I'm glad to see such a positive impression. I came across a quote from it a month or so ago, and other than that didn't really have it on my radar. It sounds like something I'd really like - angsty marriage? Woohoo!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm the same - I like a healthy dose of angst!

      Delete
  6. I tried to read this when I was I teenager and I just don't think I was able to appreciate the complex themes at that time. I thought it was boring! I've always had a block against it because of that, but I would love to try it now and see how different my reaction would be.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It would have been boring to me too as a teenager - I thought life was very straight-forward back then!

      Delete
  7. That sounds lovely. I wish that this was on my Classics Club list instead of The Great Gatsby.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Most people prefer Gatsby, I think I'm in the minority...

      Delete
  8. I read this last year and really enjoyed it. If you haven't already read it I'd recommend Everybody Was So Young by Amanda Vail, about Gerald and Sara Murphy. If I remember correctly Fitzgerald based the character of Dick Diver on Gerald Murphy. Joanne

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the recommendation, I've added Everybody was so young to my wishlist :)

      Delete
  9. It sounds like such a wonderful book. I, too, felt detached from the characters and their emotions when I read The Great Gatsby, so I'd like to see how much more powerful Fitzgerald's writing can be when real emotion is added to the mix.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad you felt the same about Gatsby, because I really wanted to LOVE it but I need more emotion than that to get into a book properly.

      Delete
  10. I studied The Great Gastby at college and hated it with a passion but then studied it again at uni and adored it. I think Fitzgerald's writing is like that, it means different things to you depending on where you are in your life. I have been meaning to read more by Fitzgerald and I think this one has just become my next read!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's funny how time does that, changes our reactions to books. I have Beautiful & The Damned too, looking forward to reading that in the near future.

      Delete
  11. I've only read The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald but I think I'd like to read more of him as I find the period he writes about to be so glamorous and fascinating, and his own life with Zelda was quite interesting, too. I think I have Tales of the Jazz Age, so I should probably read that one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love the time period too, it draws me to Hemingway as well although I'm not a big fan of his writing. Zelda has a book too, doesn't she?

      Delete
  12. I had the exact same reaction to The Great Gatsby as you did. I enjoyed reading it in a critical way, enjoyed discussing it in class, but I never forged an emotional connection to it. Hopefully this means I enjoy Tender is the Night as much as you did!

    Also, I kinda want to read this one just because Keats inspired the title. How nerdy is that? :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hope so, you'll have to let me know if you get a chance to read it. I love that the title was inspired by Keats too :)

      Delete
  13. I'm going to add this to my list. I started with 72 books like you, but it has gotten so out of control I stopped counting. :)

    ReplyDelete
  14. I'm hoping to read The Great Gatsby sometime soon and then follow it up with this one. I'm glad that you strongly recommend this one - it does sound good to me.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I first read this when I was about 17 and I didn't really appreciate it then but I think it might be time for a re-read. I can certainly see now that at 17 with no real experience of relationships or life I just didn't get it, at the time all I can remember is being vaguely annoyed by the characters, definitely time for a re-read.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Sounds awesome--and the cover is just beautiful!

    ReplyDelete
  17. I won a beautiful set of Fitzgerald's novels last year, really looking forward to starting them this year. I was planning to start with The Great Gatsby as that's the best known one.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I don't really like and think Great Gatsby is the "greatest" but from what you describe I think this one is more for me! ;)

    ReplyDelete
  19. I agree with so much of what you've said here. This novel is so tragic and it's almost hard to keep reading as the Divers self-destruct, but Fitzgerald renders it so beautifully that you have to keep going.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I liked this one more than Great Gatsby, too. But it's been awhile since I have read it... this makes me want to pick it up again!

    ReplyDelete
  21. The Great Gatsby is the only book of his that I have read and I liked it a lot, so I'm very curious to know what my reaction to this one would be. I definitely need to make some time to read a few older books like this.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Will put this one on my list for sure! Reading more Fitzgerald is on my list of things to do in 2013. I disliked The Great Gatsby the first time I read it and upon re-reading it last year enjoyed it much more. Currently reading Max Perkins: Editor of Genius which is also fanning my flame for more Fitz.

    ReplyDelete