Have you ever started a book hating the characters and then by the end of it, you ended up rooting and loving them? This is how I feel about Fitzgerald’s ‘Tender is the Night’. As I pledge to read more classics, Fitzgerald is one of the authors whose works I always want to read.
The book consists of three books and with each book, the story gets deeper and more revealing. It opens with a scene at a beach in South of France with a 17-year-old actress, Rosemary Hoyt. She travels with her mother and at that beach, she falls in love with Dick Diver, a charismatic man in his thirties. Rosemary is charmed by not only Dick but also his beautiful wife, Nicole. At first, I disliked Rosemary for being so naive and hopelessly in love, but then as the story got more complex, her naive love was necessary for providing a contrast between hers and Dick and Nicole’s love.
“I fell in love on the beach,” said Rosemary.
“First with a whole lot of people who looked nice. Then with one man”
That summer, Rosemary spends her days with the Divers and their friends who are mostly Americans. One evening at a dinner party at the Divers, one guest reports that she has seen something strange in the Divers’ bathroom, which is the first sign for Rosemary that something is wrong with the couple.
The story continues to book two, the flashback, which explains a lot more about the Divers. Dick Diver is a promising young psychoanalyst working in Switzerland. In the clinic, he met Nicole. Nicole suffers from schizophrenia caused by her relationship with her father, a rich American. This is a really crucial an heartbreaking part of the story. If before I had been a bit annoyed by how The Divers’ behave, this really changed my mind.
Later, Dick who develops a Florence Nightingale Syndrome decides to marry Nicole, knowing that he will be responsible for her wellbeing his whole life. With Nicole’s money they can live in luxury and for a while (the time when they meet Rosemary) Dick doesn’t practice. Also in this part, it becomes clear to me how much Dick loves Nicole. To the amount that maybe Nicole herself doesn’t realize. Yes, he loves Rosemary too, but he and Nicole have gone through so much that it is impossible to love someone more than he loves Nicole.
He supposed many men meant no more than that when they said they were in love – not a wild submergence of soul, a dipping of all colours into an obscuring dye, such as his love for Nicole had been. Certain thoughts about Nicole, that she should die, sink into mental darkness, love another man, made him physically sick.
With Nicole’s money, they move back to Switzerland with their children and build a high-end clinic for rich foreign patients. Dick feels happy and he finds satisfaction in his job, however, Nicole’s episode of breakdowns happens after a patient’s mother sends her a letter, saying that Dick has an affair with her daughter. Although it’s not completely true, it reminds Nicole of her own incident.
“Home!” she roared in a voice so abandoned that its louder tones wavered and cracked. “And sit and think that we’re all rotting and the children’s ashes are rotting in every box I open? That filth!”
Almost with relief he saw that her words sterilized her, and Nicole, sensitized down to the corium of the skin, saw the withdrawal in his face. Her own face softened and she begged, “Help me, help me, Dick!”
Nicole’s breakdowns almost kill them. They are driving in a car with their children when Nicole suddenly has an episode and grabs the steering wheel. This is the first time I feel really scared of Nicole, and maybe feels Dick’s frustration.
“You were scared, weren’t you?” she accused him. “You wanted to live!”
She spoke with such force that in his shocked state Dick wondered if he had been frightened for himself – but the strained faces of the children, looking from parent to parent, made him want to grind her grinning mask into jelly.
Not long, Dick feels suffocated by being around Nicole and their marriage is crumbling. On a business trip, he meets Rosemary, who is now a successful Hollywood star. Dick tries to bring back the feeling he felt before, but he doesn’t find Rosemary attractive anymore. Little by little, Dick loses his confidence and he – who once was a very charismatic and always be the centre of parties – become increasingly embarrassing in a social situation. He drinks a lot and picks fights. Finally, after a patient in the clinic complained to Dick’s partner, they sell the clinic shares and move back to Riviera, where Nicole – who becomes more and more distant to Dick – has an affair with Tommy Barban, the couple’s old friend.
The ending for the book comes abruptly for me. Dick has foreseen Nicole’s affair with Tommy and when they tell him the truth, he had already let her go.
When I finished the book I was in tears. Where were the passion or the hopes and dreams they had before? Why did they give up? Should they give those all up? Then, of course, l should reflect this back to my own life and relationship. When is the line between trying and giving up? How far you should go in a commitment? How much of yourself you have to sacrifice? When enough is actually enough?
If my life was Tender is the Night, I would probably be Dick in my story. I had my own version of Nicole and it wasn’t easy. Nothing with mental illnesses, but it is safe to say that he wasn’t the easiest man to be with. I sacrificed a lot – which of course back then they weren’t sacrifices, just acts of love. It really breaks my heart that he took everything so lightly – as if the past years were just a page he hurriedly needed to turn over.
But then, why not? I saw this coming; he must have seen it too. We both try our best to deal with our own situations and life actually feels lighter for me now. Although I hate how things turned out for Nicole and Dick, maybe it is the best for each of them. If I want a happy ending for every story, maybe they won’t make a great story after all. A friend of mine once said, there is always beauty in everything, even tragedy and sadness.
This is my favourite line, said by Nicole to Dick when they are walking together in a garden. Dick was away far from Switzerland when he recalled Nicole’s request.
“Think how you love me,” she whispered. “I don’t ask you to love me always like this, but I ask you to remember. Somewhere inside me there’ll always be the person I am to-night.”
And Dick does. Although with detachment, he loves her for her best self.
This edition of Tender is the Night is from Alma Classics.