Monday, November 9, 2015

Tender is the Night

The story begins in the French Riviera, with a young actress, not yet 18, travelling with her mother.
The story doesn't revolve around this actress, named Rosemary, but she's the one who introduces us to our two protagonists, our two love inflicted heroes of this novel.
Nicole and Dick Diver.
She meets them on the beach. The way she describes them makes them feel godlike and untouchable and fleeting like sand through your fingers. She quickly becomes entangled in their cool enthousiasm and aloof hospitality. Almost as quickly as she falls for their charms, she falls in love or rather becomes enchanted by Dick Diver.
As Rosemary seems to be part of their gang for a while, the Divers and a few of their friends travel to Paris to see one of their friends of on a journey to America. Rosemary sets out to make sure Dick knows of her infatuation, which he first ridicules into being immature and short-lived. Rosemary persists and Dick has to admit his first reaction was premature. He steadily falls for her young charms and eventually gives in.
This causes him to be torn between his longing for the young and fresh Rosemary and his long lasting love for Nicole, a woman once troubled with a past injury.
Once you realise Dick has irreparably fallen and Nicole senses his tumble, the story takes you back to their beginning.
Geneva being the new setting and a mental hospital the new meeting place, we enjoy the next chapters from Dick's point of view as he visits colleagues in his area of expertise, being psycho-analysis. Nicole is one of his friends' patients and as she perceives the young doctor she clings to him quickly.
She's gorgeous, rich and troubled. Dick is initial against any infatuation she feel for him, but keeps up a steady postal relationship to see if her situation improves. In the end she catches him in her web and they end up married.
His narration stops where Rosemary's began.
That's when Nicole has a few things to say. Already prone to dramatic scenes, she falls to pieces when she realises her husband's deceit. Without actual facts she sees more than there truly is and this eats at her mental stability more than if Dick might have been honest.
He's subdued in his actions also, feeling that Nicole has some clue at what happened.
The topic of Rosemary is a tender one to touch.

The last third of this novel revolves again around Dick and a little around Nicole as their marriage falls to pieces around them. They move back to Geneva for a while, where Dick can practice his medicine, but they are still unhappy.
Dick eventually decides to take a little holiday by himself, ending up in Italy where Rosemary is making another picture.
Four years have passed since they last met and this time their infatuation goes all the way, as where in Paris is was restricted to kisses and dreams.
After his encounter with Rosemary, Dick finally realises he has been in love with a image of his mind and sees the coldness Rosemary possesses. He takes his distance but not without being scarred.
His age and choices of life start to weigh on him. Everywhere he sees opportunities to be unfaithful, with every glance a woman gives him he seeks to be unfaithful, whereas he always tended to be aloof. He drinks more, gets into trouble and eventually finds his way back to Nicole.
Of course Nicole grows colder as well, and as they return back to the French Riviera, she is torn between what she wants and what Dick wants. Too long has her life revolved around him, that she doesn't even know what she wants and she starts being annoyed at every little thing Dick does.
Dick himself doesn't care anymore.
With every page the novel goes on, you see the control he once had slipping through his fingers, eventually costing him Nicole and his children.
In the final pages of the novel we get to know from Nicole fragments of places Dick tried to start anew, all with a sense of trepidation.
Is he happier? The ending makes us thing negatively. Would it have been better if he stayed and fought to be with Nicole? I don't think there's an answer to this question that will satisfy anyone.

There's a quote from this novel that quite touched me:
"Most people think everybody feels about them much more violently than they actually do - they think other people's opinions of them swing through great arcs of approval or disapprovel.

It's a thought of the writer himself, when he contemplates Rosemary's behaviour towards Nicole after Dick gave in.
This novel impressed me severely. It's not just this quote that touched me, this novel in its whole was quite a emotional ride. Fitzgerald accomplished to captivate his audience with just the emotions of ordinary people. Nothing extraordinary happens, nothing to alleviate the tension of the struggling characters, no divine intervention of any kind.
It's not a story meant for young souls who still love with all their made of and lose themselves as they fall. Tender is the Night aims for those more experienced, hurt and worn souls. One you get by hitting your head one too many times against the same rock, feeling invincible just before the fall or seeing too many what-could-have-been's.

This novel is described as the Rise and Fall of Dick Diver, but that's not the way I see it. Tender is the Night is about the beginning of the end of a happy marriage. You'd might say that a happy marriage doesn't fail because of seduction, but is that truly the case?
Doesn't doubt sneak in after many years? Doesn't the determination of 'til death do us part' crumbles every time we think of another what if? Once you start doubting, even just a little, it's hard to get that 100% resolution you had in the beginning. It's a race against time, where you try to salvage as much as you can as the years take hits on the home you made for each other.
Live your marriage, don't overthink it, I'd say.
But since this story cuts close, I'm the last one to preach the ways of a perfect marriage.

I know Fitzgerald is commonly known for The Great Gatsby. Tender is the Night isn't even in the same league as that novella. It's a couple above and critically acclaimed to be his best.
I'm glad I tried this gem of the 1930's.