“The table seemed to have risen a little toward the sky like a mechanical dancing platform” – Fitzgerald writes this book so you can, for a while, dance along with them.
Set largely in the 1920s along the French Riviera, this book follows the young American actress Rosemary, and her relationship with the tragic yet charismatic Dr Dick Diver. The novel charts the rise and fall of the enigmatic socialite, and the all-encompassing power of youth, ultimately uncovering the secret degeneration of an entire society.
Dick is married to Nicole, the ‘Viking Madonna”, a flawlessly beautiful yet formidable young woman who hides a dark secret that threatens to shatter her icy facade. Their marriage is threatened by Rosemary, fresh from glimmering success as Hollywood’s new star and – initially – full of girlish innocence. “I fell in love on the beach”, she calmly tells her mother, (the only previous object of her affections), and selfishly pursues this love with little real regard for her actions.
Following the Divers and their vast, incalculable wealth to the fashionable streets of Paris, she attempts to navigate the complex social world they inhabit, whilst never truly understanding its very foundations. She meets the darker side of carefree expatriate America in Abe and Mary North – one a helpless alcoholic, the other a hopeful wife; neither are happy. And the longer Rosemary spends in this exclusive world, the more unhappy she becomes.
Through his breathtaking yet intrinsically detailed narrative, Fitzgerald is able to display the delicacies of human nature – both its beauties and flaws – whilst telling a strikingly personal story, one that reflects the deterioration of his own marriage.
The book is split into three parts, all with omniscient narration. Yet the second part contains an intriguing flashback to the beginning of Dick and Nicole’s increasingly fraught relationship, and reveals the reasons behind its fragile nature. The book then becomes more of an exploration into their (ultimately doomed) relationship, delving deep into human desire, mental insecurity and – essentially – morality.
Whilst this book is beautiful for its soft probing of the failures of love and dreams, it does take a good 100 pages or so to get into, and you do have to be committed. I must admit, having already read The Great Gatsby (which I have reviewed in a previous blog post) and become a huge fan of Fitzgerald’s work, I can more easily get lost in the fascinating worlds he creates. Others, however, may not have the patience.
I would definitely recommend this book if you are a fan of Fitzgerald’s and have not yet read it. As his last completed novel, it serves as a testament to his magnificent writing style and ability to capture lost pockets of society.
However, even if you aren’t, I would still give this book a good go, and advocate patience – it improves the more you read, though it’s better if you can lose yourself in the minds of the characters and attempt to understand their internal struggles.
Ultimately, it’s a tale of broken souls trying as best as they can to fix themselves. Their only mistake is believing that dreams – of love, happiness and fulfilment – would be able to do the job.