Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald - Book Review #133

Wednesday, October 5, 2011
 Tender Is the Night
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Set on the French Riviera in the late 1920s,Tender Is the Night is the tragic romance of the young actress Rosemary Hoyt and the stylish American couple Dick and Nicole Diver. A brilliant young psychiatrist at the time of his marriage, Dick is both husband and doctor to Nicole, whose wealth goads him into a lifestyle not his own, and whose growing strength highlights Dick's harrowing demise.

Scott Fitzgerald began writing Tender Is the Night in 1925 – the time of roaring 20th, Scott Fitzgerald’s time. It was finished and first published in 1934 – the time of Great Depression, John Steinbeck’s time. So I guess it is somewhat natural that the book met a lot of negative reviews, most based on: “We have nothing to eat here, we are dying from hunger and you are writing about rich bored people, who are shopping, laying on the beach and going to parties on the French Riviera, while still desperately unhappy.” And I guess we all can see the critics’ point of view, however, I cannot deny seeing Fitzgerald characters’ as well.

From the first sight, it is hard to like Tender Is the Night’s characters – they are rich, they have no high purpose in life, they are wasting their time and complain a lot. On the other hand, if we stop judging them (from our purposeful, no time wasting and every second dedicated to help others less fortunate then ourselves point of view) and really try to put ourselves in their shoes, we will realize that we are really not that different from these characters: we are too trying to make right choices and we are too living with burden of consequences from wrong ones. We are, same as Tender Is the Night’s characters, very rarely looking at our lives from the perspective of how much more fortunate we are comparing to other people. We all are too busy with our own pain to notice someone else’s. Then why would we blame Dick, Nicole or Rosemary to be an unworthy characters, to be unlikable? They are very realistic and drawn with brutal honesty.

For me, the major role in understanding and sympathizing with these characters played Scott Fitzgerald writing style. If Tender Is the Night wouldn’t be in Fitzgerald’s prose, it would be just a whiny story about some rich brats. These characters broke my heart. They are so desperately unhappy, trying to understand why. How could we not be compassionate to them? I just couldn’t dismiss the book on the grounds of it being about shallow, rich people with dumb problems. I had to take these characters into my heart; I had to try stopping my tears from falling on the book’s pages for their shattered lives.

There is a polemic going on, from the time Tender Is the Night was first published, between critics on which Scott Fitzgerald’s book is superior - The Great Gatsby or Tender Is the Night. I can’t say which camp I belong to. I had a big space in my heart for The Great Gatsby and now Tender Is the Night has joined it. (Should I make it even more clear how much I loved it?)


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