Monday, 10 February 2014

Review: Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Tender is the Night
F. Scott Fitzgerald

This edition published by Alma Classics.

Read for Jazz Age January and the Classics Club.

'Oh, we're such actors - you and I.'

I'm usually the first person to put my hand up and say 'I don't get it' (I'm looking at you, Joyce), and there were several points during my reading of Tender is the Night when I almost did find myself about to stick my hand in the air and say exactly that. Having said that, I can't deny that I enjoyed the experience. It was a tough slog occasionally, but overall not a slog I resented.

Tender is the Night is the story of Dick and Nicole Diver and their passionate but tumultuous relationship. One day Rosemary Hoyt, a young actress, arrives in their lives and sparks a series of events that reveal the cracks in their relationship and change their lives forever.

I found I was drawn to Nicole as I read Tender is the Night. The more I read, the more I wanted to know about her. Through the first part we see her from the perspective of various characters and I initially felt a bit puzzled by her (as, I think, many of the characters do). She seems quite enigmatic but at the same time very personable - an odd combination really. It was when I got to the second part of the novel that I really connected with her (and him) and started to feel like the novel was going somewhere. This second part goes back to the start of their relationship and how they met (in slightly dodgy and definitely frowned upon these days circumstances). Nicole is getting treatment for schizophrenia when she strikes up her friendship with Dr Dick Diver (who else adores that alliteration?!). This relationship structure (patient and doctor) is something that never goes away even after their marriage which leads to a restlessness and unhappiness felt by both. I couldn't help but think they were doomed from the start.

Fitzgerald's writing is, as ever, vivid and beautiful, but also incredibly sad. Particularly the ending. It is so quiet and understated - more like a winding down than an ending - and so suffused with melancholy that I actually felt a bit emotionally effected (I think empty describes the feeling well). I had another read of the final chapter before writing this and I'm still surprised by how powerful it is given that it isn't a shocking or dramatic ending. The final image of Dick living 'somewhere' in America, seemed such an apt way to end a novel that essentially follows the downfall of a man through his marriage.

The more I think about this book, the less I am able to form actual coherent thoughts about it. I think my whole not getting it is part of that but I also feel like I just don't know how to think of it. I couldn't even tell you whether I liked it or not. How's that for a book review?! I think, in a nutshell, I am happy to have read it. It was a interesting experience and I think it is fascinating as a 'his' version alongside Zelda's 'her' version, Save Me the Waltz. 

'I didn't mean that. But you used to want to create things - now you seem to want to smash them up.'

Have you had a more coherent response to Tender is the Night? If you have written a review leave the link below, I'd love to make more sense of it!



  1. When I was putting my Classics Club list together, I was torn between this one and The Great Gatsby and I went for Gatsby instead. I've tried not to put too many books on by authors that I haven't read before and there were *so many* books that I wanted to put on that this one got edged out...

    I'm intrigued by your comments on the dynamics of the characters' relationship so I'm going to definitely keep an eye out for this, even if I'm not a fan of Gatsby (I've heard mixed things...).

    Incidentally, that edition is super pretty! If I wasn't always lured in by the PEL editions, I could definitely go for a couple of them.

  2. Oh, I love this book, mainly because it is so sad. I remember feeling like Nicole and Dick really loved each other, but just couldn't work things out.

  3. I'm reading Z at the moment, so I couldn't resist chipping in here!

    I'm not a fan of Fitzgerald on the whole as I didn't get on with Gatsby at all (like you said, I'm the one raising my hand because I didn't get it), but I really did enjoy Tender is the Night. Or, I appreciated it, if not enjoyed.

    I think the point is that the Divers lives are meant to echo those of F. Scott and Zelda - mental issues, extravagant lifestyle with underpinning issues etc. Is that what you took from it too? I really want to read Save me the Waltz, just so that Zelda gets her say! :)

    I actually didn't like the ending though. I mean, it makes sense if you keep in mind that he's meant to be F. Scott and him and Zelda ended up living apart, but still. I like my books to have an ending, not just trail off!

  4. I liked Gatsby, didn't love it, but from what you've said I think I'd like Tender is the Night. Less expectation, maybe, but the plot sounds... fuller. The context of it, alongside Fitzgerald's life makes it worth it just for that.

  5. I don't really think there is much to really "get" with this novel and that's one of the many problems for me. Similar to Hanna, I can appreciate the novel as Fitzgerald's personal reflections and fictionalized semi-autobiography of his failing marriage with Zelda but that's about it. Yeah, i really didn't like this novel at all. Here's my review:


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