Publication Date: 1934 (First edition)
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.