Number of pages: 384
Publisher: St. Martins Press
Rating: older adults (some swearing and violence, and mature content)
Genre: historical fiction, feminism, fictional biography
I’m no stranger to F. Scott Fitzgerald as I read 2 of his novels: The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night. Although his writing made a permanent place in literature, I was curious to know more about his wife, Zelda as there is little that I know about her. Seeing that his wife was an inspiration to his writing career, I was compelled to read A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald to discover her place in Scott’s life.
A fascinating story about the life and times of Zelda Fitzgerald. As the wife of a young famous writer, her life is overshadowed by her husband’s fame and fortune (before his career went down under). There is little to know about Zelda but Therese Anne Fowler gives us a captivating insight beginning with how the once-to-be famed couple met to their endless Gatsby parties during the Lost Generation. Every place they go to is like a playground from New York City to the French Rivera and Hollywood.
Told in the first person narrative, we read a first-hand account of Zelda told in her own voice. But this isn’t a biography as it’s entirely fictional but told in a mesmerizing tone as she chronicles her husband’s successes, his failures, and his alcohol abuse. Zelda describes her surroundings and the people they met in such descriptive detail that I could picture the most pivotal moments shared by the golden couple.
As her story develops, we see Zelda feel conflicted between her duties and her individuality. We sense her determination of becoming more than just a wife and mother, but a woman finding her place in this world. Zelda reenters the world of ballet, hoping that her ambition as a professional dancer would make something of herself. She comments how her teacher, Madame Egoriva has become a bacon of hope, “a shining light that powered my world/she made me believe that I had every reason to continue striving for perfection.” But that shining light flickers as Zelda returns home feeling bottomless, empty, and cold only to repeat the routine again the next day.
But her husband is less supportive in his wife’s dream as Scott stubbornly puts his foots down arguing how her determination is turning her into a selfish excuse to abandon her duties. The pot calling the kettle black as Scott spends more time absorbed in travelling for inspiration, attending parties, criticizing the criticisms, and becoming a lackey to Ernest. Worst of all, Zelda eventually realizes the reason behind her husband’s obsession over Ernest: “I watched Scott extol Hemingway and understood something that explained everything and terrified me: Hemingway had become Scott’s alter ego.”
As the story progresses, we see the struggle between Zelda and Scott. Zelda making a name of herself without being tied down or overshadowed by her husband’s fame, and Scott struggling endlessly to write “America’s next greatest novel” to pay his dues and building a better life for his family. But as his failures become noticeable in the literacy world, he begins to blame Zelda as the cause of his catastrophe, using her as a scapegoat.
Zelda began as a romantic heroine and ended as the tragic hero as she succumbs to her mental illnesses, keeping them intact and under control, while fending off Scott’s persistence in secluding her in asylums to “cure her.” But as Scott dies, Zelda feels her heart torn “before and foreverafterward.”
A beautifully written and yet, tragic account of the wife of the most famous, talented, and yet, failed writers of the time. I give this book 3 hoots out of 5.