Tender is the Night is August’s Book of the Month for the Sharing Stories campaign run by Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which looks at books and stories about mental health problems. I’ve only ever read (and hated, soz) The Great Gatsby and this is the other F Scott Fitzgerald on the 1000 books-to-read-before-you-die list so I thought I’d give it a go. Kind of wish I hadn’t bothered, really.
It isn’t a long book, but man does it feel like it! The story of the collapse of a marriage between a psychiatrist and his rich, young and pretty patient, this book is mostly about the facade of wealth and privilege in the 1920s and how alcoholism and stigma destroy relationships. Written in the 1930s there is a serious note of bitterness throughout and given Fitzgerald and his wife’s own history, which includes a breakdown on her part and alcoholism on his as their own marriage broke down this is an autobiographical mess of a book.
Although there are some beautifully written passages, character arcs and an interesting structure that suits the theme perfectly, it is just so meandering-the story of rich Americans floating around post-war Europe gets really really dull after a while, especially when they are all so vapid. The book opens on a beach in the South of France, where the Driver’s social circle gravitates to every year on their insistence. Rosemary Hoyt, a very young actress, new to money and fame, is thrown at Dick Driver by her oddly scheming mother. Rosemary falls in love with Dick almost immediately, but she is not the heroine here and the real story doesn’t start until almost 100 pages in, in Book Two, which reveals the personal history of the Drivers and how they came to be together. Book Two then catches up with the beginning of Book One, and Book Three takes place five years later, looking at the effects of Rosemary, and the rest of Book One’s events, on the couple.
I likes the idea, and the history of psychiatric care in Europe at the time was fascinating and at times sad-homosexuality for example was still seen as a mental illness and one of Dick Driver’s patients has he father try and beat it out of him with a belt. But the way the book was written just did not appeal to me. I’m not a flowery prose kind of girl. I got to the end of this book, but only because I felt that I should get to the end, and there were moments were I accidentally skipped a page and honestly didn’t notice.
It is also uncomfortably racist in completely unneccessary ways, to the point where I was surprised that it was included in a list recommended by this organisation at times. Don’t read it if you don’t like throwaway racist terms or attitudes.
If you like The Great Gatsby for the style of writing rather than the plot, or like other floaty 1920s writers that go on a bit then you’ll like this. It is worth reading, but maybe not wasting a summer on!