Thursday, January 18, 2007

F. Scott Fitzgerald: Tender Is The Night

Many many years ago, when I was much too young really, I read The Great Gatsby. And failed to get it. My lingering impression of the book is... nothing, boredom perhaps. (In some ways perhaps this is not a wrong thing to take with me from reading Fitzgerald, since lassitude is a prevailing theme in his stories of the Jazz Generation.) The lesson one must learn is to Not Read Classics when you're Too Young just to Seem Smart. If you don't get it, you've gone and destroyed a perfectly good book and/or author for nothing.

More due to lack of anything else I did however pluck Tender Is The Night from the bookshelf the day before yesterday. I really didn't feel like giving The Great Gatsby another try - coward that I am - and also I needed a thicker book to last me through a whole day at work. Just in case. There is nothing worse than running out of reading material at work. Oh, and guess grace à qui we own both books? Yup, thanks to mr. Self-Improvement...gotta love him. *smooch*

Tender Is The Night is a story of a marriage between a doctor and a former mental patient, and how their life together and marriage disintegrates slowly. I think it falls apart because they can't think and live outside their roles as weak v. capable, sick v. healthy, young v. older etc. - but what do I know, this wasn't a Wordsworth edition with a handy clever preface to help me know what I should think... It is in large part drawn from Fitzgerald's own experiences, since his wife Zelda was mentally ill. This autobiographical slant does shine through quite strongly. The novel feels very bare and true in the parts that relate to the illness. Also, I find it fascinatingly modern that Nicole's illness can be traced to an incestous father - although in those days she is to some extent considered an accomplice. There are plenty of very modern ideas in the book, and all people who have the misplaced idea that people were somehow better, more "moral" and such things "back then" should read it.

I liked loads of things about it, the description of "global" Americans living abroad for example - feels rarer nowadays. Somehow though I never really grew to care much about the characters. Maybe I didn't feel like I got to understand their motives properly, what made them tick. Maybe I'm too rooted in my time, and I'd need to read a book like this more slowly, to understand what's written between the lines better. But it's poignant, sad, yet not hopeless, and ultimately both readable and recommendable. I think I'll give mr. Gatsby another go sometime in the near future, and compare the two. Possibly Fitzgerald's good points will come across better in The Great Gatsby, since it's shorter. I mean, it must be more succint, I think.

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