Sunday, 2 March 2014

Review: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Ann Fowler

Book cover of Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese May Fowler
This might seem like an odd read for me, considering that I didn't 'get' The Great Gatsby and I only tolerated Tender is the Night. I didn't know that much about F. Scott Fitzgerald's wife, however, other than she's seen as one of the first flappers and allegedly had a few mental health issues. Plus the book is pretty. It does help.

Plot summary: When beautiful, reckless Southern belle Zelda Sayre meets F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country club dance in 1918, she is seventeen and he is a young army lieutenant. Before long, Zelda has fallen for him, even though Scott isn't wealthy or prominent or even a Southerner and keeps insisting, absurdly, that his writing will bring him both fortune and fame. When he sells his first novel, she optimistically boards a train to New York, to marry him and take the rest as it comes. 

What comes, here at the dawn of the Jazz Age, is unimagined success and celebrity that will make Scott and Zelda legends in their own time. Each place they go becomes a playground: New York City, Long Island, Hollywood, Paris, and the French riviera - where they join the endless party of the glamorous, sometimes doomed Lost Generation that includes Ernest Hemingway, Sara and Gerald Murphy, and Gertrude Stein. Everything seems new and possible, but not even Jay Gatsby's parties go on forever. Who is Zelda, other than the wife of a famous - sometimes infamous - husband?

This is clearly a very fictionalised account, although to be fair it never pretends to be otherwise. A large portion of the novel is dialogue which I would assume comes straight from the imagination of the author. After all, we can know dates and facts, but few private conversations are actually recorded for posterity. It's not really a problem as this is a novel, but it's something to keep in mind.

It's an odd mix of style - there are some truly wonderful literary passages, but then some very light and fluffy parts. It can be possible to mix the two, and I know that some people's lives are like that, but the two styles read like two separate books. It results in a novel that's very up-and-down - I had to be careful to put it down during a part I was enjoying or I simply wouldn't have wanted to pick it back up again!

I do like Zelda Fitzgerald - as a fictional character here, at any rate. It begins a little obviously - you're practically bashed over the head with how unique and sparkly Zelda was a girl. Hindsight is always twenty-twenty, after all. The character settles down shortly afterwards and I did find myself rooting for her. She was so... naive, I suppose. So hopeful.

Parts of it, like the below passage, did affect me quite strongly. The narrative doesn't really go into Zelda's (or Scott's, actually) mental illness very thoroughly and I did notice the absence.  It seemed like such an odd aspect of her life to skip over. Her time in various hospitals is documented, but not really the reason she was there or the eventual outcome.
We drank too much after dinner, and when my parents had gone to bed, we ended up in a truly ugly fight - and I ended up with a black eye. I was of the mind that I deserved what I got; it had seemed to me a fair fight, no different than I'd have had with my brother or any of the kids I'd grown up with. When my folks saw me in the morning, though, they were horrified.

Obviously, it's very sympathetic towards Zelda and at least moderately anti-Scott. I'm aware that authors rarely write books about historical figures that they didn't like to begin with, but I was surprised how thoroughly any flaws or repurcussions from Zelda's actions were glossed over.  Again, I know it's a novel but it's not a very well-balanced one.

I did finish Z furious at F. Scott Fitzgerald and with half a mind to boycott his novels (although I admit this would hardly be an inconvenience), so it clearly did affect me. Unfortunately it's not a feeling that stuck with me and I've now sunk back into my usual Fitzgerald-related apathy.

I think that's the kicker for me with this one. I did enjoy it but it's almost instantly forgettable. I wasn't particularly desperate to finish it and it's not something I'm likely to reread, but I don't regret the time I spent with it. If I were you, I'd probably head to the library for this one.

Read Lit Nerd's review of Z here.


  1. Yes, the glossing over of Zelda's 'illness' and the repercussions of her actions did disappoint me in Z. I did enjoy this novel, mostly thinking of it as fiction as opposed to anything else but I certainly came away with a slightly angry attitude towards F. Scott and Hemingway. I have to agree with you about the 'instantly forgettable' - I had to go back to my review to remind myself what I thought! But then that could just be my terrible memory...

    Thanks for linking to my review! I loved reading your thoughts :)

  2. The book might not have been balanced but your review was :) I have this on my list as well as another (I think it's Robuck's Zelda?) and like you I'm not a great fan of Scott but I'm hoping novels of Zelda will be 'better'. Well done on What's In A Name!

  3. Hopping over from the What's In a Name Challenge.

    What an interesting concept. Reminds me of The Women by T.C. Boyle, telling Frank Lloyd Wright's story from the viewpoint of the women in his life, which turns out not to be very flattering to Frank Lloyd Wright.

    Joy's Book Blog

  4. Nice write-up! Being able to write creatively is something not all of us are capable of. Count yourself blessed because you have a talent. Getting into the mood in writing does not have a set of rules to follow. ‘To each his own’ is what people say; however, a list of suggestions wouldn’t hurt.write your story

  5. Nice write-up! Being able to write creatively is something not all of us are capable of. Count yourself blessed because you have a talent. Getting into the mood in writing does not have a set of rules to follow. ‘To each his own’ is what people say; however, a list of suggestions wouldn’t to write a story


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