Will I Ever Be Able to ‘work out’ Dick Diver?

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I’m not going to deny that Tender is The Night isn’t without its flaws (compared to The Great Gatsby) it took Fitzgerald nine years to write, yet arguably it reads as though it were still in draft state. However, I actually think that such flaws are appropriate! After all, the novel is all about flaws. Initially everything seems overtly romantic, idyllic! Between the settings of the French Riviera littered with gorgeous couples with glamorous names, and the title of the novel, taken from Keats ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ an expectation for the devastatingly beautiful romance we know Fitzgerald masters is certainly put in place. Yet, below the surface of the title, and below the surface of the characters, there is darkness, secrets, infidelity, and devastating personality flaws.

Out of all the characters, Dick Diver frustrates me the most. I just cannot work out who he is, or why he behaves the way he does. However, I do know that I can’t help but have an annoying sympathy for him. It feels ridiculous to have any sympathy for Dick, he spends most of his time in the novel in an alcoholic stupor making it difficult to fully understand and engage with his character, and he is unfaithful to his wife. That said, I was still almost reduced to tears by him. I see Dick as a deeply troubled, perhaps even a reflection of Fitzgerald himself, I see him as a man who cannot bear himself. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I excuse infidelity. However, I think that I only came to the conclusion that Dick has such a dark relationship with himself, because of his behavior. Rosemary Hoyt is 18, and Dick is a married man twice her age. It is interesting to analyze exactly how he reacts to her instantly falling for him. It is most interesting that initially he doesn’t entertain her advances, he’s married and she’s just a ‘naïve child’ compared to him. Yet, it really isn’t long before this changes, and before he quickly lets his ego take over. This makes me question whether his alcoholism and infidelity are ‘cries for help’ ( I suppose I like the irony of the psychiatrist who turns out to be the most mentally damaged) or whether he is in fact simply demeaning and disrespectful to women.

My interpretation of the sudden change in his course of action with Rosemary is that it is indicative of someone battling inner demons. The fact that his wife is also his mental patient makes it all so much worse. As a psychiatrist, one would expect Dick’s character to be the sanest; they may read his infidelity as being a selfish action by a selfish man. However, I still believe that Dick is possibly the most mentally troubled character in the novel. Spiraling deeper into alcoholism, he spends more and more time drunk, his prose becomes difficult to follow, his actions contradict. I suppose I also feel sympathy towards Dick because if I consider him as being ill, I can accept the way in which he can be seen to use women. Perhaps I’m deluding myself, and Fitzgerald has given us a character we are supposed to hate and that’s that. However, arguably he only married his wife because her mental illness provided him with the opportunity to write the psychiatry manual, that was his life’s most successful work. In terms of Rosemary, perhaps their affair was not purely blamable on Rosemary’s naïve behavior driven by an infatuation that blinded her morally. Perhaps Dick was using Rosemary as an ego boost, a validation of his virility? Who knows? Even so, I struggle to work out whether I despise him, or whether I feel sorry for him. Maybe I’m infatuated by him! (not that I get that emotionally invested in novels I read…).

Even if the novel has flaws, and even if the characters are flawed and they contradict. I am still in love with the novel, and its challenged. Tender is The Night certainly doesn’t disappoint in terms of providing a rare and exquisite type of romance that glistens from every page. The moment whereby Rosemary instantly falls for Dick on the beach illustrates how magically Fitzgerald crafted and weaved words.

“He looked at her and for a moment she lived in the bright blue worlds of his eyes, eagerly and confidently”

Book Review: Starter for Ten by David Nicholls

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Release: 2003                                                                                                                                                 

Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton                                                                                                                                                              

Age: Young Adult ( or, anyone who was a student in the late 80s wanting to reminisce)                                                                            

Pages: 469

‘1985. First year student and Kate Bush fan Brian falls for beautiful University Challenge queen Alice Harbinson in a brilliant comedy of love, class, growing-up, and the all-important difference between knowledge and wisdom.’

David Nicholls manages to give his books personalities, and Starter for Ten is certainly exemplary of that. Firstly, the book is hilarious! I think I laughed out loud at least once in every chapter (picture me sitting in a café chuckling on cue every 10 minutes). The most compelling aspect of the novel for me however, was the way in which Nicholls provides a documentary about being a student in 1980s Britain. He uses popular music, fashion, food, and celebrities to give the novel a distinct place in time, which makes for an educational experience. The novel is written for modern young adults, and whilst Brian is a student in a completely different cultural context there is no doubt they are still  able to cohere and empathize with the embarrassing skin problems (more than anything else) and relationship traumas Brian endures. The novel is all at once relatable yet historic. Back to the point about Nicholls giving his books personalities, if this book was a person it would be an agony aunt! It deals with anxieties students are bound to face like rejection, embarrassment, fear of failure etc. and the constant humor really does dilute them.

Brian is SO awkward that It’s reassuring. No matter how socially inapt you may think you are, or how embarrassing you believe people think you are, it’s okay, you are not as awkward as Brian! Okay, we all trip over our words when trying to impress someone or when socializing with a new crowd but after a while we’re fine, Brian never quite gets there. For example, He instantly harbors a huge ‘crush’ for Alice who is evidently miles out of his league, and at first it is endearing that he communicates with her through very simple dialogue, of course he does, he’s nervous. However, he seems to never really get past this nervous stage, endearing quickly becomes pitiful. Brian does get a cathartic ending, he gets a girlfriend similar to himself, he becomes less anxious, but he also describes himself as “a lot wiser” (469) yet he is only nineteen. Personally, my pity for Brian was confirmed in this line, perhaps at nineteen you are a little wiser about life and relationships, but a lot? I can identify with the feeling of finishing a year at university and feeling more learned and far more resilient, but not omnipotent that ‘wisdom’ would suggest. I suppose to me, this ‘wisdom’ Brian may be referring to is actually more of a loss of naivety, and of acquiring a certain savvy streak in your personality.

The heavy dialogue signature to Nicholls style makes for an addictive read. The book can easily be read (and re-read in my case) in a day. I would recommend Starter for Ten, or any of Nicholls novels for readers looking for a light-hearted, funny and warm experience. Written from Brian’s first person perspective, it is also the perfect read for anyone interested in the drama of a book, and the nature of relationships. It may seem odd for me to say you should read it if you’re interested in storyline or drama, for what else do we read for? To me reading isn’t always for the storyline alone. Some books we read as research to collect a list of different style and techniques of creating drama, or we persevere through books we quickly decide aren’t for us to eliminate storytelling techniques from our own style. Starter for Ten for me was a luxurious read for those times when we have a free afternoon, or even a holiday read we can indulge our attention in completely, and for anyone that enjoys watching drama on stage or on television this book is an ideal alternative.

 

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My ‘Amazing’ Experience, On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

on-chesil-beach-nytIt is rare that I read a book and consider it amazing before putting on my critical hat and justifying why. But, On Chesil Beach was just that, it was immediately amazing. The way in which McEwan crafts language, the way that he is able to create distinct voices surely contributed to my amazement. However, what really made this novel amazing was what it physically and emotionally did to me. For four hours I was sat in the middle of my parents’ bed sobbing into the sleeves of my jumper, this book made me do something I rarely indulge in. McEwan made me reflective about how I consider the consequences of my own life choices and how exactly I make them, or don’t. In On Chesil Beach decisions made by characters of a similar age to my own have utterly devastating consequences on the course of their adult life, Florence’s decision to conceal her fear of intimacy leaves Edward with a failed marriage that haunts and torments him throughout his life, subjecting him to a debilitating loneliness; it’s terrifying. We are permitted my McEwan to do a fearsome type of pondering and consider ‘what if’s’ more than I believe anyone in the early stage of life would comfortably do. I finished the book feeling helpless, devastated, and grateful to McEwan for teaching me the value there is to be had in being honest to the ones we love, for I admit, emotional honesty is something fearsome when you’re a “young innocent” as it obviously (and more extremely) is in Florence’s case.

 

Another aspect of this novel I found amazing was the amazing and surprising dislike I felt towards Florence. I wanted to find some area of sympathy, but her inability to conquer her fear of intimacy when given the opportunity was translated to me as exaggerated, and plainly ridiculous; Especially considering her husbands’ obvious adoration for her and her body, and his unusual patience throughout their engagement. Throughout her relationship with Edward she consistently failed him, failed to honor him with honesty, failed to reciprocate his affection and he was completely blind to her failure because he was so infatuated. She was a young woman with the complete devotion of a man that she didn’t truly want but and whether naivety or selfishness was to blame she kept it anyhow.

 

“She could not love the way men and women loved”

 

So perhaps I’m being harsh, perhaps Florence genuinely couldn’t make herself capable of love and this means she maybe deserves to be parenthesized as a victim. I suppose the fact that I simply failed and still fail to find any empathy for Florence the way that I do for Edward is the reason for my incredible emotional involvement in this novel. I’m always weary not to get too emotionally involved in a piece of writing for fear that I won’t be able to analyze it and criticize it with an objective, clear, rational mind. I suppose the amazing thing about this novel was its ability to remove my academic hat and replace it with a purely emotional one. The most amazing aspect however, was its resonance in my consciousness, for I genuinely believe that it has opened a peephole into a layer of awareness I previously didn’t care to look through.

 

 

 

 

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