Tender is the Night was Fitzgerald’s last completed novel (he never finished The Last Tycoon) and there is an autobiographical element to the narrative which I think makes the story more poignant. It has the same beautiful style as The Great Gatsby although it is somehow not quite as magical. it is still a wonderful book and I love reading anything by Fitzgerald but it didn’t grab me in the way that Gatsby did. Although set in the same decadent era as Gatsby the whole feel of the novel is more melancholic – Gatsby can’t really be described as a happy story either but this novel has an overriding feeling of sadness. It tells the story of Dick and Nicole Diver and the breakdown of their marriage. Dick is a psychiatrist and Nicole was first a patient before she became his wife too. Her fluctuating mental health and Dick’s drinking lead to an unravelling marriage and career.
The novel is split into three parts but they are not chronological and the second section temporally precedes the first. I thought that this led to a bit of confusion about the focus of the narrative. The focal point of the first section appears to be Rosemary Hoyt, a beautiful young actress who is enchanted by the Divers and who eventually has an affair with Dick. However Rosemary seems to disappear from the story during the second section, which recounts how the Divers met, and I felt this meant I could never really form a connection with any of the characters; they seemed ephemeral and impermanent. I felt that this gave the sense of immateriality – nothing really mattered, their actions were all kind of meaningless.
Despite this, Fitzgerald’s depictions of the characters are wonderfully nuanced and the descriptions give a perfect idea of how each of the characters are – it is a rare thing that you don’t find in many other novels. And there are plenty of beautiful quotes!
They were still in the happier stage of love. They were full of brave illusions about each other, tremendous illusions, so that the communion of self with self seemed to be on a plane where no other human relations mattered.
It’s not as good as The Great Gatsby but it’s worth reading just for the way F. Scott Fitzgerald writes.