on July 3, 2005
Thought provoking and brilliantly written "Tender is the Night" etches itself into your brain: once read, never forgotten. Longer, looser but more complex and much darker in its subject matter than "The Great Gatsby", Scott Fitzgerald similarly transcends time & place to leave you with quite unforgettable images. For example, describing an open-air dinner party on the Cote d'Azur he writes: "There were fireflies riding on the dark air and a dog baying on some low and far-away ledge of the cliff. The table seemed to have risen a little toward the sky like a mechanical dancing platform, giving the people around it a sense of being alone with each other in the dark universe, nourished by its only food, warmed by its only lights." And, thirty years after first reading that wonderfully evocative description, it's still there: burned-in as a reference-point that follows me around all open-air late night parties... just waiting for that distant bark.
Replete with similar passages, "Tender is the Night" juxtaposes romantic idylls with the personal tragedies surrounding most of its characters, and, in so doing, triumphs in exploring the differences between perception and reality, superficiality versus excess, strength of character versus fear & weakness, and uncontrollable madness versus self-induced self-destruction. Drawing you into a hedonistic world that you would sincerely wish to be part of and then exploding its deficiencies in front of you, it leaves you realising that not all is what it seems.
Closing with a superbly structured final paragraph that ranks as one of the most effective I've ever read - bringing together everything that the book seeks to explore in a few cogently dismissive and understated sentences - this is writing at its very best: compelling, perceptive, complex, timeless and, beneath its superficially "glossy" exterior, very true. If you haven't read it do: it's one of the best books out there.
on September 17, 2002
The Great Gatsby is without a single doubt one of the greatest American novels ever written and has well deserved its position as a permanent fixture in American literarture classes. Everyone and their sister had read The Great Gatsby. I personally loved it, but that was before I read Tender is the Night. It touched my heart and got under my skin an infinity more deeply than The Great Gatsby. It is a work that cries with hopelessness, loneliness, and broken dreams.
Tender is the Night chronicles the downfall and eventual ruin of Dick Diver, a smart, handsome pshychiatrist. He has everything in life going for him. He has friends, beautiful children, money, ability, and so much love for his wife Nicole. But this idealistic life can not long endure and Dick's sparkling world soon begins to unravel. Nicole turns out to be a schizophrenic. Though her mental illness has been dormant for years, it begins to resurface, destroying Dick's confidence, optimism, his marriage, and his very life.
Tender is the Night is almost painful in its emotion. Fitzgerald seems to have filled the very pages of the book full of his tears. As this book was written, his own wife Zelda institutionalized as a schizophrenic, making this novel semi-autobiographical. This work is so astounding simply because of the feeling it reveals straight from the heart of its author, making it one of the most intimate portraits I have ever read. Tender is the Night is an absolute masterpiece.
on August 27, 2004
I liked Tender is the Night even more than I expected to. As a fan of a few of his other works (notably The Great Gatsby, This Side of Paradise and The Collected Short Stories), I went into this book with a healthy enthusiasm. . . What I discovered was a story that was painful to watch unfold and one that kept me engaged and interested in what was happening from the first page to the end.
It tells the tale of Dick Diver, his wife Nicole, and numerous other equally complicated individuals who sway in and out of their lives over the years following World War One and just prior to the rise of Adolph Hitler. Americans living in or around Paris and the resort spots of France, these are rich people, people so rich that their money has literally destroyed them. They have become those rare people who don't have to wish for anything physical, whether it comes in the dream of a mansion on a hill in some far away country, a group of friends that includes royalty and movie stars, or sexual conquests with anyone you can even momentarily desire. All their dreams have, or could possibly on a whim, come true. And so there is nothing in this life left for them . . .
It is a sad tale of likable people coming unglued, of seeing their lives destroyed and watching nobody care, regardless of their goodness. It is a story of absolute and utter desolation, finally, as the almost journalistic ending comes at you. It is like falling out of touch with someone who was once the most important person in your life, hearing vague stories about what they are up to and realizing they are getting fainter and fainter and fainter . . .
This was quite obviously a very personal book for its author, a disillusioned man who saw many of his own dreams come true early on and who was left to watch his own joy turn into boredom and finally complete indifference. This book is the nightmare that all of us hope never comes true. It is somewhat comforting, in the end, to realize that in spite of his own early death, his crazy wife and his alcoholism, F. Scott Fitzgerald's story isn't anywhere near as terrible as this one.
It is, among a multitude, one of the better books I have ever read.
on July 8, 2012
When faced with a « classic » novel, how do you come to terms with the fact that you don't like it ?
At the risk of being labeled boorish and unsophisticated, I'll take the plunge and say it : I didn't like Scott Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night.
I'd heard of that novel all my life. Expecting a real treat, I decided that it was time I did something about it. May be I was expecting too much.
First disappointment : the style. I know : it's wonderful at times, with moving and enchanting comparisons and metaphors ; flashes of beauty in the night. However, when you stumble across sentences that have to be read two or three times before you can be sure what they mean (and even then...), it spoils your pleasure somewhat.
Second disappointment : the plot. It sounds hollow.
Third disappointment : the characters. Even more hollow than the plot. Hard to identify with poor little rich girls and boys who have never encountered any real problem, setback or suffering in their lives.
Ibsen used to say : "The rich know how to have fun, but they don't know how to be happy".
In Tender is the Night, you wonder if they even know how to have fun.
on February 15, 2004
I thought I had reached the high point of Fitzgerald's work when I read The Great Gatsby. I was wrong. This book is not as organized nor as focused as Fitzgerald's more popular work, but, in my opinion, it is better. The characters are astoundingly complex, and are fascinating to read about and get to know. The setting--various places in Europe--is brilliantly depicted. But what makes this book great is the interaction between the characters. It is a story of the Divers, Dick and Nicole, a couple who all but trade roles in the course of the novel. The story opens with Rosemary, a young actress, as she meets the Divers and is completely enthralled by them. Through Rosemary we see that the Divers are, in fact, very nearly the ideal couple at the beginning of the book; but this apparent bliss is a mask of a deep, complex, and difficult history, and an awful foreshadowing of a tragedy to come. The story moves backward to Dick and Nicole's meeting, then forward again to the tragic climax.
Dick, a psychiatrist, met Nicole at his clinic, where she was a patient. He was a brilliant young doctor and successful author, she, a broken and troubled youth. Dick helped her put the pieces back together, and married her. They lived an almost blissful existence for a time, but then Nicole began to relapse. The bulk of the novel deals with Nicole's problems and her struggle to overcome them, as well as Dick's growing problems, which he, with all his training, is not so able to move past. Dick and Nicole's relationship develops into something ugly, a shattered remnant of its past glory. And what is worse, it isn't even really Nicole's fault.
Fitzgerald has a gift for beautiful prose and a talent for storytelling that is almost unparalleled in literature. This book should be considered a classic, and surely deserved to emerge from the shadow of its sister work, The Great Gatsby, and be regarded as the masterpiece that it is.
Tender Is the Night is one of the most interesting examples in 20th century fiction of reversing the usual social metaphors. Dr. Dick Diver, a psychiatrist, is examined as a case of mental health. He is also placed in a classic woman's role, that of the desired, amiable beauty sought after by all and sundry. These juxtapositions of the usual social perspectives allow the reader to touch closer to the realities of human need and connection, by piercing our assumptions about what is "right and proper."
The story begins from the perspective of Rosemary Hoyt, an 18-year-old motion picture star, recuperating on the Rivera. One day she goes to the beach and becomes entranced by the Divers, Dick and Nicole, a golden couple with whom she immediately falls in love. Beautiful, young, rich, and looking for adventure, she quickly sets out to capture Dick who is the most wonderful person she has ever met.
Later, the story shifts to Dick's perspective and traces back to the beginnings of his marriage to Nicole. She had formed an accidental attachment to him (a classic psychiatric transference) while residing in a mental hospital. He returned her friendship, and found it impossible to break her heart. They married, and he played the role of at-home psychiatrist tending her schizophrenia. All went well for years, but gradually he became weary of his role. His weariness causes him to re-evaluate his views on life . . . and the psychological profile of Dr. Diver, charming bon vivant, begins.
The tale is a remarkably modern one, even if it was set in the 1920s. Fitzgerald deeply investigates the meanings of love, humanity, and connection. In so doing, he uncovers some of the strongest and most vile of human passions, and makes fundamental commentaries about the futility of fighting against human nature. The result is a particularly bleak view of life, in which the tenders may end up more injured by life than those they tend. What good is it to please everyone else, if they offend rather than please you instead?
The character portrayals of Rosemary Hoyt, Dick Diver, and Nicole Diver are remarkably finely drawn. I can remember no other book where three such interesting characters are so well developed. You will feel like each of them is an old friend by the time the novel ends.
If you have ever had the chance to read Freud, the novel will remind you of his writings. There is the same fine literary hand, the succinctness and clarity of expression, and the remorseless directness of looking straight at the unpleasant. I felt like I was reading Freud rather than Fitzgerald in many sections.
This book should open up your mind to thinking about which social conventions you observe that leave you uncomfortable . . . or which are in contradiction to your own nature. Having surfaced those misfitting parts of your life, I suggest that you consider how you could shift your observation of conventions to make them more meaningful and emotionally rewarding for you.
Be considerate because it pleases you to be, not as a ruse to obtain love!
on June 4, 2005
At first I thought this was about a marriage, then adultery, then co-dependency, then madness, then and then and then..... This is a book about unraveling in all its forms. Everything of importance -- love, places, people, and finally dreams unravels until there is nothing left and everything has been stripped bare and drained. This is not just a portrait of a man, his wife, a marriage, a family, a lifestyle, a time -- it is all of these in turn.
I actually prefer this book to Fitzgerald's masterpiece dissection of the American Dream, The Great Gatsby. Tender Is the Night is not always easy to read, and it does cover some of the same thematic ground (alienation, for one), but it is much more of an intimate, psychological portrait. It is detailed where Gatsby is spare, as it shreds layer upon layer of resilience and dignity. A devastating and achingly beautiful book.
on May 20, 2002
This is my favorite Fitzgerald novel, primarily for its biographical proximity to their similarly glamourous and ghastly marriage. The story opens on the unspoiled Riviera where money and adventure ruled, the Divers were the epitome of the expatriots of the Lost Generation/Jazz Age. Not only mythically gorgeous, Mrs. Diver was an ideal as a mother and dramatic gardener. She removes to an Eden-like retreat of lush and fragrant blooms that is infamous for its mistakes, i.e. Fitzgerald's lack of familiarity mixing tulips with sunflowers and other late summer blooms. The endless parties and thrill seeking begins to cloud the horizon and the startling secret that the couple have been trying to elude, breaks into a storm.
The unraveling of this pharntom perfection is indeed `Tender' and ineffably sad. Zelda and Scott scaled Olympus as well, and suffered from excess and what was explained as a streak of madness in Zelda's family like a fatal flaw.
The alcohol factor, in Zelda, given the advantage of the times, seems far more likely the major factor for her suffering than some arcane mental illness. Fitzgerald and Zelda were co-dependent, last stage alcoholics with irresponsible and self-centered natures, the ingredients of tragedy and self-destruction. The ingredients often of great writers.
Yet, in Tender Is the Night, it is more as if madness comes like fate to challenge such god-given beauty and glory. The hot Riviera, white walled, and perfumed heaven is no where else so perfectly envisioned. Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is generally considered a better work, but for pure mood to attach to the Lost Generation, this is by far and away the one that touches my heart.
on April 23, 2008
Not the most cohesive of Fitzgerald's work, Tender is the Night does deliver on Fitzgerald's beautiful prose and heartbreaking characterizations. The novel explores the disintegration of a promising young American doctor whose idealism comes under the crushing weight of hard capitalistic power. At times it becomes difficult to believe in the main character's steady decline since early in the novel he is depicted as so brilliant and thoughtful. However, Fitzgerald tries (and generally succeeds) in making the argument that American idealism is a fragile thing and not impervious to the destructive power of money.
Donald Gallinger is the author of The Master Planets
on November 27, 2002
I have read this book maybe a half dozen times and everytime the book gets better. This book was produced inbetween nine years of distraction and disapointment, and while Gatsby is lean and tight and fluid--this book is anything but. It has its problems, but Fitzgerald writes his way out of them. The Difference between the twenty-eight year old writer of 'Gatsby' and the thirty-seven year old author of 'Tender' is just that--Fitzgerald had grown up. He wrote a book he hoped to be the model for the age--Joyce, Stein, Conrad, Proust. But instead he produced a book that is all Fitzgerald and consequently a model for any age. His style has exceeded 'Gatsby' and so has his content; his characters are real--breathng, smiling, crying, lusting, drinking, smoking, loving, and thinking. A book about "the dying fall"--something we all understand. Filled with soul--it is Fitzgerald's absolute finest.