Tender is the night – F. Scott Fitzgerald 

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There is no doubt that Fitzgerald has a wonderful way of laying words on the page. The first few pages of this book are sheer eloquence. This excerpt perfectly captures that delightful happy wriggle of getting into cool water on a hot day:

Rosemary laid her face on the water and swam a choppy little four-beat crawl out to the raft. The water reached up for her, pulled her down tenderly out of the heat, seeped in her hair and ran into the corners of her body. She turned round and round in it, embracing it, wallowing in it.

It’s not that the rest of the book is any less eloquent, only that I find the poetic
summations a bit wearisome after a while. It takes me longer to work out what is actually going on and feels a bit like wading through mud and poking around with a big stick, trying to find the point. I, shockingly, felt the same about ‘The Great Gatsby’. I struggled to engage with the characters, to even care enough to dislike them, and to summon any interest in the plot. The writing is beautiful but the flourishes get in the way of it becoming absorbing. There is nothing wrong, it is just not for me. I picked out this example which is full of lovely turns of phrase but which I just find a bit distant and vague for such an emotionally charged moment:

Rosemary dozed for three hours then lay awake, suspended in moonshine. Cloaked by the erotic darkness she exhausted the future quickly, with all the eventualities that might lead up to a kiss itself, but with the kiss itself as blurred as a kiss in pictures.

If I had not been confined to an aircraft, I might have put this down and walked away. I’m glad I didn’t. After a few chapters of Dick Diver and Rosemary being bland and predictable, the facade begins to melt away revealing Nicole as raw and real and suddenly stealing the show. There is something reminiscent of ‘The Bell Jar’, which I love, and the dull self-absorption  of the others seems designed to contrast with her development. The power shifts away from the youthful and successful. Ultimately, this becomes about a woman regaining control of her life.

There was a lot of understanding in handling the theme of mental health and the question was repeatedly raised as to the different kinds of madness and our attitudes towards them.

“That’s alright. She’s a schizoid – a permanent eccentric. You can’t change that.”

“What is it?”

“Just what I said – an eccentric.”

“Well, how can anyone tell what’s eccentric and what’s crazy?”

From: Rise, the independent book and music shop on the triangle in Bristol (Above Friska which does fantastic things with their halloumi lunch boxes) during a book buying ban. I was definitely not meant to leave with three books, a cd and a second breakfast. I regret nothing.

Read: in Glasgow and on the flight home. The photo is from the Cottonrake Bakery which was recommended by 3 different locals and makes a lemon meringue pie that should be internationally recognised.

Felt: impressed for the first 7 pages, a bit distant for the first half and then hooked for the remainder of the ride. This was quite an emotional read for me personally as it unexpectedly began resonating and became uplifting in its own weird little way.

Liked: that those who you thought had the starring roles lose their shine and the spotlight, making way for bigger issues and a different kind of strength.

Would recommend: to anyone else who was unmoved by The Great Gatsby and wants a fresh start with Fitzgerald.

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