Dick Diver and his wife Nicole are Americans at the centre of the European playground that was the French Riviera in the 1920’s. Dick is a psychoanalyst who marries Nicole, his emotionally unstable patient. A saga about rich, charismatic people in the south of France has a lot of potential for being interesting, especially when you throw in alcohol abuse, bad behaviour, mental health issues and infidelity. This was another whole era in American presence overseas. The age of the ‘ugly American’. The book does point out the differences between Americans and Europeans.
Published in 1934, like any other great novel of this time, there are plenty of themes, symbolic references, and foreshadowing. I read the book in conjunction with Sparks Notes to not miss anything, but it all felt rather like hard work instead of reading pleasure. Sometimes I think the allure of a classic is merely that we once had the fortitude to wade through it and now can smugly boast that we read it, since I didn’t find the book itself all that brilliant or that well written despite Fitzgerald being considered one of the great American writers. Maybe it was in its time! It is important to recognize the impact of a book when it first came out.
‘Tender is the Night’ being his last complete novel, Fitzgerald poured a lot of himself into the book, which explains some of the dark themes. His wife Zelda suffered from mental illness and he himself suffered an alcoholic decline similar to the protagonist in the story.