Strengths: A different way of thinking about the Fitzgeralds and their life.
Weaknesses: It’s a tale of fiction, based on what we know about the Fitzgeralds – so not 100% accurate.
Why I read it: Gatsby fever is sweeping the world!
Publisher: Two Roads Books
Setting: America and Europe
Rating: 9 out of 10
Great Gatsby fever is mounting in Australia at the moment and the film hasn’t even been released! There’s a lot of talk about the clothes, the parties, the music and Gatsby/Leo. So what to do but read a book about the Fitzgeralds in anticipation? I didn’t realise know all that much about Scott and Zelda before I started, except that they lived a very vivacious life riddled with tragedy (thanks profile in a magazine).
This novel is a fictionalised account told in the first person by Zelda, Scott’s wife. We meet her in her hometown in Alabama just as she meets Scott. The leisurely pace picks up quickly as Zelda marries him at seventeen and takes New York by storm. The Fitzgeralds are It in town, Scott riding high on the back of his debut novel, This Side of Paradise. There are lavish excursions, fashions and drinking as Prohibition continues.
Unfortunately, the high life doesn’t continue for too long as reality and debt sink in. Scott and Zelda move around, going to Europe to try and live more cheaply. It is there that Scott meets Ernest Hemingway and they become firm friends. It’s also here that Scott’s drinking increases and Zelda becomes unwell, first physically and then mentally. As Zelda moves to a psychiatric institution, the narrative speeds up, condensing a lot of years in one. It would have been interesting to read these in more detail. Also, I would like to point out that eczema is not a sign of mental illness, as Zelda seems to think!
It’s amazing to read about all the things Zelda had seen and done at such a young age – living the high life, having a daughter, writing, painting and dancing with much of society. It seems that she was somewhat maligned for trying to do what the majority of women do today – have it all (the career, family and friendships). It would be interesting to read in more detail how much of a role she had in some Scott’s works and if this can be verified.
Fowler tackles the subject of fictionalising two real people’s lives incredibly well. I like how Zelda’s voice started out as young and naïve and then gradually became more outspoken and confident. As for the relationship with Scott, I can only liken it to Facebook – ‘it’s complicated’. Fowler portrays the relationship as passionate, yet destructive – you know it6’s going to end badly, but you can’t tear your eyes from the page.
A wonderful novel that embodies the age perfectly. This would also make an excellent film, if Baz Luhrmann is reading…