Tender Is the Night – F. Scott Fitzgerald (Book Review)

Compared to the more popular works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, such as, for example: The Great Gatsby (currently undergoing yet another transformation from page to screen), and the short story The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, it can be argued that Tender Is the Night has been largely ignored. In fact upon release, the follow up to Fitzgerald’s seminal novel The Great Gatsby, was viewed as a failure, and although it can definitely be argued that the popularity of the publication has increased over time, the works most commonly associated with the author remain, to this day, the aforementioned pair.

One of the many interesting aspects to Tender Is the Night that also exists in many other works by Fitzgerald is the semi-autobiographical nature of its prose. This is perhaps best exemplified here by the relationship between Doctor Dick Diver and his wife, Nicole, which mirrors in part the relationship between Fitzgerald and Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, his wife.  This parallel to real life events, and people, only helps throughout the novel to reinforce the sense of tragedy underpinning the narrative. When situations get out of hand, and relationships become skewered among the group of American and International expats, the underlying truth and emotional depth behind the text only heightens the sense of sadness and disgust the reader feels for these characters; some long suffering and others destructive and cruel in their ways.

Tender Is the Night much like The Great Gatsby, and other less significant Fitzgerald novels, adopts an elegiac tone, with the loss of innocence, and breakdown of relationships, paramount in the narrative. To compliment this the prose is packed with a poignancy that helps to reinforce the luxuriousness of the novel’s opening, and contrast this with the ensuing depths that the novel seeks fit to explore. The book is separated into three parts of about equal length, each segment containing a major event that helps to stir up the group, and drive the novel’s plot forward. It is this central construction in part that compliments the core themes of the text, with the characters drifting closer together and then further apart amidst the passing of time. The second part in particular is reserved for the origins of the Diver family, helping to fulfill the novel’s future bittersweet intentions by expanding on many of the first part’s mysteries.

Although it may be true that the characters aren’t as memorable as that of Gatsby, or even Tom Buchanan, from The Great Gatsby, the characters presented here are still engaging. Examples of this include the soldier, Tommy Barban, whose allegiance lies with no single country, Dr. Dick Diver himself, the protagonist of much of the novel, who much like Gatsby is a tragic American hero. Other memorable characters include the women of the novel, such as Mary North, Rosemary and Nicole. Nicole is arguably the most interesting character within the novel, remaining an enigma for much of the first part of the book, whilst gradually becoming more transparent as the novel progresses.

Whilst there should be no allusions that Tender is the Night will ever escape the long shadow cast by its more notable predecessor, it is definitely worth the attention. Whether you are interested in seeing how much of an author’s real life permeates into his work, or just interested in becoming absorbed in a foreign world, in this case the south of France during the 1920’s/early 1930’s, this novel offers enough to warrant, at the very least, a single read; though if necessary there is definitely enough depth to welcome a return.

5/5

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