Wednesday, August 3, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I thought I would keep going with the Back-to-the-Classics challenge. My twentieth century pick was Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’ve read The Great Gatsby (and seen the movie) and, while I can see why it is considered such a great book, I was a bit let down by it. The story didn’t draw me in as I expected given the book’s reputation. I wanted to read something else by Fitzgerald to see if it was just the story or if maybe I’m just not so much of a Fitzgerald fan.

Well, I’m a Fitzgerald fan.

I was completely captivated by Tender is the Night. This is the story of Dick Diver, his wife Nicole, and the people that swim in and out of their orbit. Dick was, at one time, a psychologist of great promise. Now, he is a gregarious charmer who escorts his wealthy wife around Europe. While vacationing in the Riviera, they meet a teenage American movie starlet, Rosemary, who is traveling with her mother. Rosemary falls in love with Dick. There is a hint of something amiss between the "perfect couple," but whether their marriage is solid or not is of no concern to Rosemary. She knows what she wants. Dick loves his wife, but he loves the attention of the young starlet even more.

At first, the characters seem shallow and rather dull, but the writing is so beautiful I had to keep reading. Then the action slips into a flashback to show us who Dick and Nicole really are.

Dick met Nicole at an asylum in Switzerland. Although he was one of her doctors, and against the strong advice of his peers, he fell in love with and married her. He understood he would forever be doctor and husband both. But Nicole was not only exceptionally beautiful, she was an heiress with ungodly sums of money. Dick tried fighting against the feeling of being bought and owned by Nicole’s family who were simply glad to have someone to look after her. But as time and circumstances wore on, the relationship fell apart under the strains. Dick wanted to work; instead, he entertained. He loved his wife, but he needed the adoration of other pretty females.

The novel is a rather unflinching look at the difficulties inherent in a relationship where one partner is mentally ill. It also is pretty unsparing in portraying the consequences of the ethical lapse of a psychologist becoming intimately involved with a patient. But it isn’t quite so simple. Fitzgerald manages to make the characters so multidimensional and so realistic, that they can’t be pigeonholed and "fault" is impossible to assign.

The book is tragic and Dick’s deterioration, inevitable as it becomes, is painful to watch. Fitzgerald drew inspiration from his own life and the people in it, which may be why the emotions come across so vividly. I couldn’t put this book down. It’s truly a masterpiece.


  1. I'm a fan of the Library of America books and have often wondered why there is only one volume of Fitzgerald's work in the LOA series. I'm a fan of his work and am still fascinated by the whole lifestyle Scott and Zelda lived...until they crashed.

    By the way, if you enjoy novels based on real people, there is an excellent one titled "Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald" by Therese Anne Fowler that was published in April of 2013. You might enjoy that one.

  2. Loved your review of this book, Susan. I have The Great Gatsby, which I haven't read yet and although the title 'Tender is the Night' sounds familiar I had no idea of the story. Your review has really made me want to read it especially knowing now that the author wrote from his own experience. Thanks.