I've been meaning to read Z for ages. I just loved F.Scott Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night (my review) for it's complicated portrayal of a marriage in decline, so I was keen to find out more about the real marriage behind the story. Z is a fictionalised account of the life of Zelda Fitzgerald from her days as Zelda Sayre from Alabama through the whirlwind days of her early marriage to the time she spent in various institutions suffering from poor mental health. It's a portrait of both a woman struggling to be known for something other than being F.Scott Fitzgerald's wife and of a turbulent marriage.
I loved this book! I was expecting to like it but I wasn't expecting to love it in the just-one-more-chapter, unputdownable, kind of way. The whole issue of Scott and Zelda's marriage is a thorny one, with Zelda accused in some quarters of destroying Scott's potential and driving him to drink, and Scott accused of driving her into a mental asylum. Fowler manages to tread a more sensitive line and present a more balanced portrayal of a marriage in which two people love each other greatly, but simply can't be happy together.
Zelda's voice is just perfect. She declares in an initial chapter that all she wants from life is "joy and drama and passion and romance" and boy does she get it. Zelda is reckless, high-spirited, ambitious and utterly charming and she just jumps off the page at you. The way Fowler writes her is just full of life and energy and you can't help but fall in love with her a little bit. I'm not the reckless sort myself so I loved reading about her bathing in a flesh-coloured swimsuit to encourage rumours that she swam nude or jumping into the fountain at Union Square.
The relationship between Zelda and Scott is portrayed very realistically. It's clear that they love each other and Zelda, who had never been out of Alabama before, is swept away by the bright lights and lifestyle of New York. Zelda and Scott are both reckless and they encourage this in each other, delighted in being seen as symbols of their age, acting more like characters out of a novel than real people. Of course, all of their partying and spending comes back to bite them later in the form of Scott's dependence on alcohol and their constant money problems. Both love drama and both lack the skills to communicate effectively, making endless promises to start over and make everything fresh.
Because Zelda and Scott really do love each other, the book is quite sad at times. We get to see moments of them genuinely caring for each other, like Zelda picking up Scott's ego after a failure in his career, or Scott not leaving Zelda's bedside when she is ill, but ultimately they just can't work out how to be happy together. Anyone who is married themselves or who has been in a long-term relationship will know that it takes more than love to make a relationship work and Z is about what happens when you have a lot of love, but not much else. I love books that show complicated relationships like this, that show how love can hurt as much as it can make you happy. Fowler did this fantastically, and this is what had me glued to the pages.
As you can tell, I loved Z and would whole-heartedly recommend it. I've finished this book with an urge to read Zelda's own novel, Save Me the Waltz, as well as Scott's The Beautiful and the Damned. I might even try some Hemingway again.
I'm going to conclude the review with my favourite passage from the novel;
"It just seemed like we were embarking on a great adventure, but that adventure turned into a party we couldn't resist, a five-year-long party, everybody in sparkling gowns and tuxedos with satin lapels, bottomless glasses of champagne...But that's not a marriage, that's not a way to live. Real life has to happen sometime."
Source: Library, though I also have a review copy from Netgalley.
First Published: 2013
Score: 5 out of 5.
Zelda and Scott has always been a longtime interest of mine but I never knew where to start. I'll definitely have to check out Z - it sounds wonderful! Thanks for the review!ReplyDelete
Z is worth checking out, hope you enjoy it as much as I did.Delete
I'm so glad you liked this one as much as I did. I listened to it on audio and thought the narrator did a wonderful job. And, yes, now I'm interested in finding a copy of her book and maybe some of her artwork, too!ReplyDelete
I'm glad it had a good narrator - a book this good deserves it!Delete
I love the sound of this book, I'll definitely be reading it in the near future.ReplyDelete
Hope you love it as much as I did :)Delete
I really liked this book too. I kept comparing it with The Paris Wife--the two relationships. In some ways this one was more tragic yet more beautiful because their love survived in spite of it all. They didn't give up on each other. Fowler made this a believable story.ReplyDelete
I have The Paris Wife, but I haven't read it yet. After the mentions of Hadley in this novel, I'm excited to pick it up.Delete
I found it tragic and beautiful too, because they really did love each other.
I've wondered about this book, and it's lovely to have such a warm endorsement.ReplyDelete
It's well worth a try.Delete
This is one I've been meaning to read (along with Call Me Zelda), it's in my catch up pile for the end of the year. Glad to hear it's as good as I've heard!ReplyDelete
Thanks for reminding me about Call Me Zelda, I'll have to check out that one too....Delete
Glad you enjoyed this! I'll definitely get to the book some time, because lives of Francis and Zelda seem very intriguing and artsy and extravagant, but I'd like to read a few more Fitzgerald novels before that (only read Gatsby so far).ReplyDelete
If you've only read Gatsby you should definitely pick up Tender is the Night, and read about the relationship from F. Scott's point of view. Plus, it's a heartbreakingly good book, probably my favourite read from last year.Delete
I literally just bought this today! I've been dying to read it since it came out, even more so since I read Zelda's novel (brilliant, by the way). I'm so pleased to hear you enjoyed it and that it's as good as I hoped :)ReplyDelete
Yay, you are going to just love it!Delete
I'm hoping to listen to this one soon... so glad you loved it!ReplyDelete
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, it's a wonderful book.Delete
I read this a while back and liked, but didn't love it. I adore Fitzgerald the writer and the reality of F the man put me off a bit. Reconsidering it after reading your review I think it was better than I gave it credit for because you are right that Zelda was a brilliantly written character.ReplyDelete
Yeah, F the man didn't get the best portrayal in this novel. I love his work too (especially Tender is the Night) but I think the reality was that he was a complex person, as was Zelda.Delete
This is a book that's been on my radar for a while but I'm not overly fond of fictionalised 'real life' - I've heard such a lot of good things about it though that it's time I think to take the plunge.ReplyDelete
I'm not normally a fan of fictionalised real life either, but this was very well done.Delete
You liked this one more than I did, but I also appreciated the way Fowler portrayed the complications of marriage. I love reading about the Fitzgeralds.ReplyDelete
I often find marriage is portrayed a bit simplistically in novels, so I think that's why I loved this so much. I'll have to try Call Me Zelda too.Delete
This sounds like a really interesting book. I read The Great Gatsby earlier this year and I am really looking forward to reading more.ReplyDelete
Ooh, you should try Tender is the Night, it's amazing. Better than Gatsby in my opinion.Delete
I just read Great Gatsby for the first time and am now curious about the Fitzgerald couple. I should check this one out sometime.ReplyDelete
Definitely, and also try Tender is the Night, it's such a heartbreaking and beautiful book.Delete
So pleased you loved this as much as I did. :-)ReplyDelete
I really enjoyed this book, It made me want to read all of Fitzgerald's books. The only real problem I had was the final years; I wanted more informationReplyDelete
I really, really enjoyed this book! Scott and Zelda had a really fascinating relationship and I can't get enough of reading about either fictional or non-fictional accounts of it!ReplyDelete
I was competely taken by surprise by how much I enjoyed this novel. I wasn't always aware when I was reading it how compelling I found it, but when I came to the end, I was surprisingly disappointed that there wasn't more to read. I knew next to nothing about Zelda Fitzgerald when I picked up this book to read.ReplyDelete