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Book Review: Tender Is The Night

Plot:

Tender Is The Night tells the story of a young psychiatrist Dick Diver who falls in love with his patient Nicole and marries her.  In fact, when the book opens they are already married, and the history of how they meet and fall in love is told in flashback.  They spend their summers in the South of France, and it’s there they meet a young American actress, Rosemary Hoyt.

Rosemary enjoys the Divers’ company, and she falls in love with Dick, but this is no ordinary love story.  Dick does not act on his feeling towards Rosemary until much later.  Tender Is The Night is the story of how Dick and Nicole’s relationship evolves over the years, how Dick becomes weaker, developing a troubling drinking problem, while Nicole becomes stronger, working out the issues which have hounded her earlier in life.  In the end, the Divers are hardly the captivating couple Rosemary meets at the beginning of the book.

Review:

I have to admit, while I did enjoy parts of Tender Is The Night, I didn’t enjoy it anywhere near as much as The Great Gatsby.  Gatsby has definitely grown on me over the years— I’ve read parts of it now and again, so perhaps I’ll need to read Tender Is The Night again before I can fully appreciate it.

Tender Is The Night is an ambitious novel.  Fitzgerald’s writing here is very dense, in that there is often a lot happening on each page.  As such, it’s a very slow read.  He packs lads of information, creative writing techniques and styles and plot points all on one page, and he does this in a way that makes sense and does not exhaust.

I was also impressed by his keen observations of a very young film industry.  This was written in 1934, don’t forget.  He comments about actors gaining fame and importance because of the nation’s need for entertainment during the past decade, in a scene where Dick Diver visits the set of one of Rosemary’s movies:

Tender Is The Night just doesn’t tell as compelling a story as The Great Gatsby.  There is no one character quite like Gatsby in Tender Is The Night. Gatsby is mysterious, unknown, and like his numerous party guests who try to guess his past and wonder at all the rumours, we the readers indulge in the same behaviours.  Where did he get all his money? Did he really kill a man?  Is he a con artist or an astute businessman?

In Tender Is The Night, Dick Diver, while interesting, doesn’t generate anywhere near the same interest or line of questioning that Gatsby does. Diver’s story is much more straightforward. His is a tale of downward spiral. He starts off with the most honourable intentions, falls in love with and marries his patient Nicole, later has an affair with actress Rosemary, and eventually falls down a doomed path of alcoholism and depression, causing him to lose everything. Sad, however, nowhere near as compelling at the mysteries surrounding Gatsby.

Likewise, the entire story here doesn’t compare to The Great Gatsby, where you have a passionate love story and ultimately a tale of murder. Tender Is Night is the study of two people’s lives, Dick and Nicole, and it tracks their life journeys as they move in opposite directions.

At times I enjoyed both Nicole and Rosemary better than Daisy who I found to be quite shallow in The Great Gatsby.  I’ve always wondered just what it was that Gatsby saw in Daisy, just looks.  Here, I can easily see what Dick Diver sees in both Nicole and Rosemary.

As a work of literature, it is a worthwhile read.  You can learn a lot about writing by reading F. Scott Fitzgerald. Nearly each page in the novel offers something of value.

It is a depressing love story, one that you’re not about to take to the beach with you for a fun summer read.

Tender Is The Night is great for literature people, writers, and F. Scott Fitzgerald fans, but for the casual reader not so much.

Of course, if you are in the mood for a challenging read, and you’re dealing with relationship woes of your own, you might enjoy reading the story of Dick Diver, a remarkable man with great potential, whose life eventually goes down the toilet because of relationships he couldn’t handle.

4/5 Stars

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