I tend to read in themes and this year these have been contemporary Irish authors like Colm Toibin, Sebastian Barry, Joseph O’Connor and John Banville and classic American writers of the early twentieth century like Edith Wharton, Ernest Hemingway and now Scott Fitzgerald.
My other reason for reading Fitzgerald is that, having visited the French Riviera many times, Tender is the Night is generally regarded as its best fiction modelled on a couple Gerald and Sarah Murphy who did more than any American to popularise this gorgeous area from St. Tropez to Mention.
In fact, although the Riviera is the setting for both the beginning and end of Fitzgerald’s final and fourth novel, it is also set in Paris, Zurich and Rome.
Furthermore the central couple Dick and Nicole Diver resemble the Fitzgeralds more than the Murphys. Dick Diver, in his descent into alcoholism, and his wealthy wife Nicole’s mental problems mirror the travails of Zelda Fitzgerald.
The novel is also obscure.
This may be because Fitzgerald did four drafts – and an editor revised it – or possibly he wrote whilst under the influence.
This the second part is a lengthy flashback in a mental institution in which Diver, a promising psychoanalyst, treats Nicole Warren, falls in love with her and marries her.
Even in this flashback the narration jumps forward to their present relationship in the South of France.
There is no doubt that Fitzgerald can write and – like the current American writer John Irving – punctuates the narration with a sudden and surprising event: a duel; a person dying suspiciously in the bedroom of film starlet Rosemary Hoyt; Diver beaten up by carabineri after an altercation with a taxi driver in Rome; a final divorce.
The references to black people dates the novel. These may mean that Fitzgerald is consigned to neglect which would be a pity.