‘Tender Is the Night’ – Book Review

This article originally appeared on Lit To Lens on May 18, 2016.

Title: Tender Is The Night
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Year Of Publication: 1934
Genre: Novel, Drama

The last novel Fitzgerald published in this lifetime, Tender Is the Night exists within a complex series of dualities which have clouded its criticisms in the years since its publication.

For one, two forms of the novel exist. The original published form relies on a long flashback, while a second, revised and posthumous version is told in chronological order per Fitzgerald’s wishes.

For another, the novel has lived two critical lives. When it was first published, the book was neither received nor sold well. As it was a follow up to The Great Gatsby, this was a huge personal and professional blow to Fitzgerald. But in subsequent years, Tender Is the Night is considered by many to be Gatsby‘s equal – even its superior. Why this has been the case is an interesting conversation in and of itself, though beyond the scope of this review.

For a third, the novel tells both a true and fictionalized account of the same life. The Diver’s in the novel are clearly the Fitzgerald’s, and the Fitzgerald’s are clearly the Diver’s. Scott Fitzgerald’s work is often read in parallel with his infamous personal history and Tender Is the Night closely reflects Fitzgerald’s relationship with his wife, Zelda, and their affairs abroad.

All that to say, Tender Is the Night is a stunningly complex read. It tells the story of Dick Diver, a young American psychoanalyst, and his wife Nicole. When we meet them they are running a beachfront resort on the French Riviera for traveling, wealthy Americans (and non-Americans who are still rotted to the core). The Diver’s are the toast of this social scene, until American actress Rosemary Hoyt enters the plot.

Rosemary is a young 18, and nearly a star. She has one well-regarded film, “Daddy’s Girl”, under her belt, and is attractive and naive and willing to make friends. She grows to love Dick and he wrestles with the consequences of a potential affair. Nicole grows disapproving of Rosemary and the obvious relationship between the actress and her husband but before it can reach any kind of recourse we are rocketed to the past.

For my money, it’s here where the novel truly flies. We see Dick’s courtship, are introduced to the Warren family – old money types from Chicago – and understand how the distant past has influenced this recent past and how this recent past influences the present.

You should absolutely pick this one up, so no spoilers here, but the ending unfolds with a subtlety and power that will simultaneously floor you and leave you wondering how you got there. Because the night may be tender, but only for a select few.

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