Tender Is the Night - F. Scott Fitzgerald

RATING: ★★★★

Publication Date: 1934 (First edition)
Publisher: Scribner
Genre: Classics
Pages: 317 pages

When I was in high school, I read The Great Gatsby and fell deeply and madly in love with F. Scott Fitzgerald - in a way that, looking back, resembles very much the relationship between Daisy and Gatsby. I barely knew anything about Fitzgerald, but I knew he was one of the greatest authors alive and that I would always love his stories. Now, I'm an adult embarking on reading Tender Is the Night and I'm quickly discovering that loving F. Scott Fitzgerald's work is not that easy. Tender Is the Night is a job to read, one that eventually is very rewarding, but can be off putting at first. 

Not only is it a job to read, it was a decade of work to write. Tender Is the Night is famously the follow up novel of The Great Gatsby that took Fitzgerald nine years to get exactly right. And you can tell - the plot is so intricate and the writing so typically decadent Fitzgerald while also not having an useless word in there. Some novels read like they were the easiest thing to write, this one reads like a lot of love and heartache went into it.

At the core, it's the story of the marriage between Dick and Nicole Diver. In the original version of the book, we meet the couple after they're married for a few years and are in the South of France vacationing with their friends when they meet Rosemary. Rosemary shows them some ugly truths about their marriage and Fitzgerald then takes you back in time to discover how Dick and Nicole fell in love in the first place. This is not the only version in existence; later on, mostly due to the lukewarm reception of the book that dealt with issues that post-depression America wasn't interested in, Fitzgerald changed around the chapters so that the reader chronologically reads from the Diver's first meeting to Rosemary's role to eventually the end of the story. (This process, including the many versions Fitzgerald wrote before the book was even released, is chronicled in The Composition of Tender Is the Night by Matthew Bruccoli, which is an academic, but fascinating read) 

I've read the original version, as I feel this best represents what Fitzgerald wanted before he got influenced by other people's opinions, but I can understand why he changed it around later. The beginning of the novel is hard. As in usual Fitzgerald fashion, we are thrown right into the action with no explanation of who anyone is or what exactly they are doing. The novel is a rollercoaster and quite honestly exhausting to read. I gave up, left the book for weeks, and came back and realised that is the beauty of the book. The lives of the characters are a rollercoaster and exhausting. They're all miserable, tired, unhappy,... And somehow through the writing, Fitzgerald makes you feel the same way. Their lives are crazy and there's no way anyone can constantly live, or read, like that - you feel the dooming decay on these characters more and more with each page. 

And then book two starts and we find out how Dick and Nicole met. And it's calm, beautiful reading that reminds us that those characters once had an easier and happier life. This is where Fitzgerald shines and really introduces you to the most beautiful sentences in literature. That's exactly what modern reviewers have discovered after Fitzgerald's death, Tender Is the Night is not as accessible as The Great Gatsby, but once you break through, it's also more beautiful. The story of a couple having and losing love is heartbreaking and Fitzgerald masters the language as no one else to tell this story.

Would I recommend this book as a beach read? Never. I think the first half really requires your completely focus and thought and being in an empty house in a cosy chair sounds much more suitable for this story, especially since the second half doesn't require your completely focus, but you won't be able to stop giving it your all. It's beautiful and all I wish for anyone is to have the time to really explore this novel and fall more deeply in love with Fitzgerald - even with his more complicated layers.

The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway


Publication Date: 1926 (First edition)
Publisher: Scribner
Genre: Classics
Pages: 256 pages

The Sun Also Rises is Ernest Hemingway's first novel, written in Paris in the 1920s, showing the live of the now famous Lost Generation as they tried to find themselves. It is one of those novels that is a must-read for many people. The Guardian placed in on number 53 in their top 100 books and praise it as Hemingway's finest work, while the Independent disagrees and sees it as a clear work in progress of a writer's development. Since it's only my second Hemingway novel, I did quite a lot of internet research about the story and meaning of the book. I included this in my review, since I thought it might be helpful for other people and put my opinions in a better context.

The Sun Also Rises is the story of Jake Barnes, who lives in Paris and is friends with writers. We start the story by seeing his day to day in Paris and how the appearance of Lady Ashley interferes with it. It is clear Jake has some history with her and though most of it is left unsaid, the reader gets a good sense on their relationship. Then the whole group decides to travel to Spain to go fishing and to see a bullfighting event. Once they're away from Paris, the whole group starts to fall apart and the term 'Lost Generation' seems to be shouted from every action of every character.

Hemingway was a journalist with only short story experience before this novel, and that's something that is immediately clear from this book. While the New York Times calls his narrative "lean, hard, athletic narrative prose that puts more literary English to shame," I often felt like I was reading a really long news article. There's an immense amount of detail in the story about the environment, most specifically the bars and beverages drank in said bars, but very little on the emotions of people. What does Jake feel? What does Lady Ashley want? It's all for the reader to interpret (- or to look at the version of the book that connects earlier drafts together and which does give a full picture of the story).

This means that though on the surface a quick read, this novel is quite hard work. The sentences are short and easy to understand, but the reader constantly has to look behind the words to see what Hemingway really means. I struggled with this because I always thought Hemingway was easy and not a modernist writer at all. Straight-forward, manly language with a lot of details. Easy. Only after about 100 pages in did I realise this book requires more thought to be fully appreciated. I'm sure seasoned Hemingway readers will know this, but it's an adjustment for someone like me. 

This also means that it's hard to relate to the characters, since we get so little real information about them. I'm always iffy to say whether a work of fiction is autobiographical for an author, but The Sun Also Rises is easier to read if we do make that leap. I think that's why so many people do see it as Hemingway's most autobiographical work - the timeline matches, the places are places he had been and the little information we do know about Jake does seem to match Hemingway. While I used it to make it easier for myself while reading, I'm still cautious to jump to big conclusions about Jake and Hemingway. Mainly I just wish I knew more about Jake so I didn't have to bring in elements of the author.

Overall, this book is fascinating to read. It is the first major book writing by a Lost Generation author during the 1920s in Paris and the story is also set in Paris. It gives us great insight into their day to day activities, though we do often have to piece their thoughts and ideas together ourselves, since Hemingway won't give us very much explicitly. I didn't love this book, but I enjoyed it a lot more than For Whom the Bell Tolls and thought Hemingway's journalistic narrative worked better in this story. Would I have preferred more insight into the characters and less in the environment? Yes. But I think this book also showcases how Hemingway became the famous writer he did - and it made me very eager to travel to Paris some time soon!

Save Me the Waltz - Zelda Fitzgerald

Rating: ★★★

Publication Date: 1932 (First edition)
Publisher: Vintage (Random House)
Genre: Classics
Pages: 225 pages

Those of you that follow me on Tumblr will know that I have been obsessed with The Lost Generation authors. In the never ending search of a thesis topic, I have now decided to focus on them and first up is Zelda Fitzgerald - a woman I've read so much about, but never read what she wrote. And thankfully I decided to change that.

Save Me the Waltz is the mostly autobiographical story of Zelda, represented by the main character Alabama, from her childhood until her father passes away, and focuses mostly on her marriage with David Knight. David is a successful painter and when the couple moves to Paris, Alabama tries to find her own creativity in a world controlled by men. She starts ballet at 27, just like Zelda did, and describes beautifully the agony and release she finds in this.

While this book is often read as a companion novel to Fitzgerald's work, mostly Tender is the Night, this discredits the creativity that can be found in Save Me the Waltz. While it does focus on the relationship between Zelda and Scott, and there are some clear parallels in events that happened in the book and in their real lives, the book mainly focuses on Alabama's struggle to find herself in a male oriented world. While in New York, she has nothing to do and aimlessly, and unhappily, wanders after her husband. In Paris, she discovers ballet and throws herself into it, even though her body cannot really handle the work.

This is where Zelda's fiction truly shines. My edition of the book followed the original manuscript which was filled with grammatical errors and words put in places that don't make any sense. Though this might bother some readers, it gave me the feel of Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway and helped me relate to the main character.  We are thrown into a world we cannot fully grasp, no matter how often we read a sentence or even the whole book, just like Alabama is navigating a world she'll never grasp. The descriptions are beautiful though and it was so easy to feel the pain from all the ballet training. All the female characters, who are only properly introduced once Alabama enters the female world of dancing, are realistic and well-rounded and all struggle with finding their way in post war Paris.

Save Me the Waltz can be a confusing read and you might have to give yourself a few pages to get into, but it is also one of the most beautiful and gripping books I've ever read. It made me ache for Zelda Fitzgerald's talent; if she can produce a novel like this in just six weeks while admitted in a mental hospital, I wish we could have discovered the books she could have written earlier in her life. She might be the wife of one of the most famous authors, but she was a talented author in herself, who was able to describe the struggles of being a woman and the world of Parisian ballet in a way I've never encountered before. This book is one to read, just for the beauty of itself.