18. Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald (Therese Anne Fowler)

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As recommended by a friend, this was the fabulous and interesting story of the life of Zelda Fitzgerald (wife of the author F. Scott Fitzgerald).  The story began when the impulsive Zelda was seventeen years old and first met Scott who was preparing to serve in WW1.  Her proper, Southern parents did not approve of the flashy Northerner dating their free spirited youngest daughter but the attraction led to marriage.  The couple started their married life in New York city – celebrating both their marriage and his first novel with constant parties, lavish spending and a great deal of alcohol.

The couple traveled back and forth across the Atlantic living in New York, Long Island, Paris and other cities in France where they met other literary types including Ernest Hemingway and artists such as Pablo Picaso.  Their lifestyle was extravagant  and at times outrageous, although they did not have the same financial success as many of their friends.   Scott used the locations and events as materials for his essays and books.

Scott became a mentor to Ernest Hemingway whose success ended up eclipsing Scott.  He was noted to be highly influenced by Hemingway who was not shy about sharing his views that he did not like Zelda and felt that she was impacting Scott’s ability to write.  As Hemingway’s success grew, Scott became more frustrated.

Zelda felt lost in her relationship and with her role as a wife.  She wanted something for herself and “dabbled” in painting, writing and was very involved in her pursuit of ballet.  Although she was invited to be a professional ballerina she was not able to follow her dream without the support from her husband.  Although she did not feel supported, it was interesting to learn that some of Scott’s essays were actually written by Zelda, some that had their names as co-authors were actually written by Zelda and that some of his materials came from her journals.

With all the pressure to be successful and the vast amount of alcohol, Zelda ended up in sanitariums or mental hospitals on multiple occasions.  She had been diagnosed with schizophrenia although the author reported that today’s experts feel that she likely had bipolar disease.  Her illness was treated by insulin therapy and shock therapy treatments.

Sadly, both the Fitzgerald’s (and Hemingway) had shortened lives.  Scott due to a heart attack, Zelda due to a fire in the mental hospital where she was admitted and Hemingway at his own hand.  The novel was a mix of the actual history of the couple and fictionalized from Zelda’s point of view.  The author shared that she had researched their lives and read the letters between the couple and also between Scott and Hemingway.

It was an enjoyable novel and makes one want to reread The Great Gatsby which has gone on to be a staple in high school classes becoming a success after the Fitzgerald’s deaths.  The author has a suggested reading list at the back of the book and it would be interesting to read his other writing, the works of Zelda and The Moveable Feast by Hemingway which is said to describe the Fitzgeralds.  The couple had a very colourful life filled with excess, angst and sadness as they struggled to become successful.

Thanks to Dominique for recommending this interesting and well researched novel.

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