In the interests of expanding my mind, every now and then I like to branch out and read serious literature. By this I mean sensible books written by well-respected authors and definitely NOT the blog posts, web articles, FB updates, historical romances…etcetera, etcetera that I usually read. To reduce the risk of the book being awful I pick from classics that have stood the test of time. So, what have I been reading? F. Scott Fitzgerald – who else? The new Gatsby movie is gorgeous – and I loved it! So the book was an obvious choice. I’ve just finished “The Great Gatsby” and moved on to Fitzgerald’s final book “Tender is the Night”.
Reading Fitzgerald has turned out to be a thought-provoking experience. Obviously that’s a good thing for a mind-expanding exercise. Exploring what the stories are really about and why did Fitzgerald write them, examining and understanding my own feelings and reaction to his narrative. Thinking about why I continue to read them at all! I’m surprised to discover that reading Fitzgerald is a fairly uncomfortable experience.
This was the first time that I’ve realized that the way the book is making me feel is as much a part of the story as the words. Does that sound obvious? While reading these books I have felt: unfulfilled, empty … like I was not a part of the story at all. I have been watching these stories unfold. I haven’t been fully engaged in the story. To use an analogy, I haven’t been sitting in a carriage on the train – I’ve been watching the train de-rail from the top of a nearby hill.
I looked into F. Scott Fitzgerald. Was this his doing? Bingo! It was, of course. It turns out that Tender is the Night is largely autobiographical. Fitzgerald, encouraged by his wife, drank too much – he was an alcoholic. His wife, Zelda, was mentally very ill with schizophrenia. To my mind, their life together began badly. Fitzgerald’s engagement to Zelda was broken off because of fears Fitzgerald’s income from writing would not support her. Their engagement resumed only after the success of his first novel. Obviously those were different days – but, just quietly, that doesn’t sound like a confidence building start to a great marriage. They didn’t make it through the “thin” of the “thick and thin” before actually getting married! No wonder he was a little cynical about the motives of the rich (Zelda was a magistrate’s daughter) and beautiful. No wonder his characters are not paragons of happiness and contentment. The characters are beautiful, but flawed. The men just as much as Daisy, Nicole and Rosemary.
So, to summarise – great books and an interesting experience beyond just reading the books. But away with Fitzgerald! Where/who to next?
Note: Here ends my first ever book review since leaving high school. Fun! Please note that I did not read other reviews of these books because I wanted this review to reflect my own thoughts and feelings. Any resemblance to any other review you might have seen is entirely coincidental.