“Won’t we be quite the pair? - you with your bad heart, me with my bad head. Together, though, we might have something worthwhile.”
My Rating: ★★★★
Genre(s): Historical Fiction (1920s/Lost Generation), Fiction
Reading Challenge: 15 out of 35
Goodreads Synopsis —
A dazzling novel that captures all of the romance, glamour, and tragedy of the first flapper, Zelda Fitzgerald.
When beautiful, reckless Southern belle Zelda Sayre meets F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country club dance in 1918, she is seventeen years old and he is a young army lieutenant stationed in Alabama. Before long, the "ungettable" Zelda has fallen for him despite his unsuitability: Scott isn't wealthy or prominent or even a Southerner, and keeps insisting, absurdly, that his writing will bring him both fortune and fame.
Her father is deeply unimpressed. But after Scott sells his first novel, This Side of Paradise, to Scribner's, Zelda optimistically boards a train north, to marry him in the vestry of St. Patrick's Cathedral and take the rest as it comes.
My Thoughts —
My opinion completely changed over the course of this novel, in a way that has literally never happened to me before.
To me, it seemed like this book started off kind of slow. We see Zelda Sayre, young and fresh-faced southern girl, very naive about the world around her and even more full of spunk - much to her family’s dismay. In the final moments of the Great War, Zelda meets F. Scott Fitzgerald, a northerner that introduces her to a whole new world. The two fall in love and then embark on their lives together, first in Manhattan and then across the world. The early years of their lives are not nearly as tumultuous as the later years, so it’s sort of monotonous in the beginning as F. Scott Fitzgerald becomes quickly successful and the two ride on the money and fame that came along with it.
It’s not until about halfway through the book that things really start to take a turn and that the book begins to earn the 4-star rating I gave it in the end. The Fitzgeralds are not a couple to aspire to be, that’s for sure. In reality, if you’re familiar with the couple’s ill-fated romance, you’ll know that they both died quite young in the 1940s with Scott first dying of a heart attack and then Zelda dying of a fire in a mental hospital nearly ten years later. Zelda’s mental health condition during their marriage is well-known, with her going in and out of mental hospitals for years. But this book reframes her mental illness entirely. Diagnosed with schizophrenia after suffering from a mental breakdown, Zelda is constantly badgered by her husband and by psychiatrists to give up her aspirations of being a writer and ballet dancer, as these will inevitably be her downfall - it is only be accepting her role as wife and mother that she will be truly happy. But Zelda recognizes this as being wildly misogynistic and unfair. Despite the women’s rights movement being in its very early stages at that time, she knows women deserve a better place in society than what their predecessors were relegated to.
The tortured love between Scott and Zelda is absolutely fascinating throughout the novel as you wonder constantly if the two really loved each other or if they found comfort in each other and mistook that for love. Seeing the deterioration of their marriage and the unequal standards to which they held one another was entirely intriguing to read and I was completely roped in. And, last but certainly not least, I loved that this book focused on a real female figure who is so often overlooked in history because of the success of her husband - even though, as we learn in this novel, she was very much a part of his writing process and success.
Are you a fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work? Did you know anything about Zelda’s story?