Friday, 17 January 2014

Review: Z by Therese Anne Fowler

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
Therese Anne Fowler
Published by Two Roads
367 pages

I use Grammarly's plagiarism checker because I want to be as original as the First Flapper.

Read as part of Leah's Jazz Age in January.

'Now, finally, at long last, the Ferris wheel had stopped turning. I'd ridden by choice - I'm not saying otherwise - but that doesn't mean I didn't need to, and want to, get off after a while.'

I have wanted to read Z ever since it first graced the shelves of our bookstores in delicious hardback. I love these fictional biographies (fictographies? biofiction?) - they're so much more than historical fiction in the way they probe so deeply and in such well-researched detail into the lives of their stars. It's like reading their journals and seeing them come to life. Granted, it is not all 100% accurate, but there is such energy there and if a writer can catch the energy of a real life person (particularly someone like Zelda) and put it down on paper without it diminishing or fading then the results are startlingly beautiful.

I am occasionally prone to fits of Jazz Age obsession which are typically triggered by reading a piece of fiction/non-fiction relating to the period. For that reason, I know the story of Scott and Zelda fairly well, but I have never seen it written down in such a sensitive, revealing and emotive way. This novel is an absolute gem. 

A little way into the novel Zelda remarks that 'it's almost like we're grownups'. I think this alone describes their early lifestyle so perfectly because they did act like teenagers who played at being adult. The novel and their lives is a whirlwind of alcohol, parties, dancing, fighting and art (in all it's forms). 

'What I realised in doing it, however, was that maybe we didn't know quite as much - about anything - as we thought we did.'

Fowler doesn't delve too deeply into the psychological troubles that plagued Zelda in later life. She does address them and in some detail but much of it is glossed over and the telling of it lacks something that the first half of the novel has. And yet, it is the second half of the novel and the exploration of both Scott and Zelda's descent into alcoholism and madness (or not, as the case may be) that most interested me. Zelda was often (unfairly, I think) given as the reason for Scott's literary downfall. Now, though, it is seen as mutual and more people are considering how they destroyed (this is a harsh word and not quite appropriate but I can't think of the best word right now) each other. This latter idea is explored in the novel with many references to women's rights thrown in (which I loved). Whether or not they were each responsible for the woes of the other, Z is a portrait of two people who are so intensely in love with each other that it becomes almost too much to handle. 

I've been working on this misguided assumption that the Jazz Age was a good time for women. How wrong I was. I think I forget when thinking about the 20's that it was still the 20's - a war may have intervened but attitudes from before still reigned. Reading Z, I have been astounded to find that these women were just as stuck as ever, still slaves to their husbands, sexually tied to whichever man feel like possessing them. Even Zelda, the First Flapper, was in a marriage which definitely did not seem all that jolly. Women's issues are picked up and explored at various points in the novel (feminist high five) and I found some attitudes really revealing. My love for Hemingway has certainly faded - I knew he was a misogynist but I always struggled to imagine it. There is no struggling here.

I've found it really hard to write this review - it is such a detailed and heartbreaking novel that I'm not sure I could do it justice. Scott and Zelda pretty much defined the Jazz Age and their ever-so-public life has been widely examined. I do think this book adds something to that wider examination in that it focuses on Zelda, her own place as an artist in the world and the female point of view. Z gives Zelda the centre stage in telling her own story (no matter how inextricably bound up in Scott's story it is) and my biggest hope is that is persuades people to pick up Save Me the Waltz and truly see life through her eyes. Am I suggesting you read Z? Yes, I am. And Save Me the Waltz, of course.

Have you read Z? Or Save Me the Waltz? Are you as intrigued by Scott and Zelda as I am?

This post was supported by Grammarly. I have been playing around with the website and it is such a brilliant tool for checking grammar and plagiarism (I still have that fear of plagiarising built in from uni). I think it is a really good service and one I will continue to use to save myself from falling into any embarrassing grammatical traps (apparently I am prone to wordiness). 


  1. I haven't really read much any jazz-age related stuff, except for The Great Gatsby, obviously. But I have Tender is the Night and The Beautiful and Damned on the shelf, and if I like those, I will likely pick up something like Z or Paris Wife.

    1. I have both those Fitzgerald's on my shelf too - I've just started Tender is the Night and I'm completely taken in by his style, as usual. I would recommend Z over the Paris Wife.

  2. I also finished Z earlier this week. I didn't like it as much as you did; I didn't like Scott or Zelda in this novel. I actually wish that the book had focused a little more on the conflict of being the ultimate flapper and still be expected to be a traditional housewife and mother. But then I don't think that the setup of the novel allowed for it.

    1. I'm not sure it's possible to like either Scott or Zelda as people. I am constantly fascinated by them but I don't think I could honestly say I like them, whether in fiction or reality. I agree, I think the novel was too sweeping and overview-y that it didn't allow for much deep exploration of women's issues. It's a shame really, that would be very interesting.

  3. The only jazz age book I've read was Great Gatsby which I totally loved. I'm quite positive I'll love this one too. Thanks for the great review!

    Kimi of Geeky Chiquitas

    1. Thanks! I think if you loved Gatsby, you'll love this.

  4. I'm so glad you liked this. I have it too (with exactly the same round black sticker!) but I bought it on a complete whim. I know a little about Zelda but only through a few Wikipedia articles after I finished Tender is the Night.

    Maybe this will be my next read :)

  5. Holy cats, this post really makes me want to read Z -- and Save Me the Waltz! I didn't realize it had such a feminist approach, but I'm super excited that it does! Thanks for sharing with Jazz Age January!


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