This is a fictional account for the life of Zelda Fitzgerald, focused, as you’d expect, on her marriage to F. Scott Fitzgerald. It takes us though the gay years of their time as the darlings of the Jazz Age, through their financial problems and Scott’s literary triumphs and failures on to alcoholism and mental illness.
I think the strongest parts of the novel came at the beginning and the end. The establishment of their relationship and its eventual decline, there are parts of the mid-section that become a little dull, a little ‘…and then we went here, and then we went there and then we did this…’ in style but that is my only real criticism of the novel as overall it is a very good read.
“For days, while at my morning and afternoon dance classes, while I ate, while I bathed, while I tried but failed to sleep, I considered how I might become more like the woman I respected and admired. Surrounded as I was by such ambitious, accomplished women, I couldn’t ignore the little voice in my head that said maybe I was supposed to shed halfway and do something significant. Contribute something. Accomplish something. Choose. Be. “
A running theme throughout the novel is Zelda’s conflict with her role in life as a wife, a sidekick if you like, Mrs F. Scott Fitzgerald, merely an extension of her famous successful husband. There are times when she enjoys the luxury Scott’s earnings bring and enjoys spending without having to earn and basking in his reflected glory, she enjoys helping with his novels and short stories without the credit. But there are other times when she feels a niggling dissatisfaction with the life she has and wants to achieve more herself and explore her own creative talents.
It is well written because the author is not implying she is any kind of feminist heroine, Zelda doesn’t particularly have any interest in feminism or campaigning for women’s rights. Zelda is an imperfect confused character who could perhaps be accused of wanting it all – but then who doesn’t? It is a very human portrait and so is Fowler’s writing of Scott. He can be quite controlling of Zelda and jealous of any attention she gets independent of him but we also see that he is sensitive and insecure and can be a loving and generous husband when at his best.
An interesting tale of two flawed people in a flawed marriage.
(This novel was made into a TV series, Z: The Beginning of Everything with Christina Ricci on Amazon. I recommend this very highly and in some ways found the adaptation more insightful and entertaining than the novel itself).