Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Last Century's Downton Abby - F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Tender is the Night" - A Book Review

The sentences, like in Gatsby, read like a patty of butter on a warm skillet ...

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Like many classics readers, I truly enjoyed the F. Scott Fitzgerald's jewel, "The Great Gatsby", and after twenty years, two readings of that text (a decade apart) and seeing the 1970's and the 2014 versions on DVD and at the movie theater, I thought I owed it to the author to investigate some of his other work. A few weeks ago, I finished reading one of his other well known novels.

Not being too up on FSF, I chose to read, "Tender is the Night." I'm embarrassed to say I picked it chiefly because I had heard of it before--probably because it too had been made into a movie, though I'd never seen it.

I enjoyed the book immensely. It follows one of my favorite styles, the circular plot which spins off after the first lap into an unexpected tangent. The sentences, like in Gatsby, read like a patty of butter on a warm skillet i.e. smooth. Since I (like most of us) have heard bits about FSF's background, it was enjoyable seeing his characters develop on the page. They are the types of people he obviously had become familiar with over the course of his life (the psychologically frail - his wife; psychiatrists - her doctors; the ridiculously well-off by both birth, luck and hard work - his life in and after the Ivy Leagues; Hollywood personalities - his job, etc.). Similarly settings match what I can only suspect match his own travels to places like the south of Europe, the mountains north of there and the hotels catering to the visitors of the same. There is some action but the story is primarily a study of human character. Still, if you are patient you may find yourself caring about them as I did. One surprise to me is that the protagonist turned out not to be who I thought. Still I was not left disappointed.

While as I say, I enjoyed the book, what floored me was that it was not received well, despite FSF pouring more into it than any other novel in his career (nine years!). It was published in 1934, some years after "This Side of Paradise" and "Gatsby" came out. While it probably sold well, it didn't meet (or surpass) the critical expectations of those two works and thus it was dismissed by many. I for one do not share that critical sentiment at all (though I have yet to read "This Side of Paradise" ) and instead found it to be well worthy of my time. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys classics. The casual Downton Abbey fan may enjoy it as well as there are many parallels (in the luxurious lives of the well-to-do of days gone by and all their scandal).

I plan to read "This Side of Paradise" next. Since it was considered (at the time) the better novel, I'm looking forward to many more hours of this master class.