Monday, June 16, 2014

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald - Book Review

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitgerald by Therese Anne Fowler is the fictional imaginings of Zelda and Scott's life together, told from Zelda's perspective. This interested me immensely as I find Zelda a fascinating person in her own right and so much of the focus is often on Scott that I desperately wanted more insight into the person he was so enraptured by. I have been a longstanding fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald, having read the majority of his novels and many of his numerous short stories. I have not read Zelda's work, but after reading this novel I plan to pick up The Collected Writings of Zelda Fitzgerald, where all her published work can be found.

I have always been facinated by Zelda and Scott's extravagant and tumultuous relationship. The pair were always drawn to each other as if destined to be together; they had an incredible love and fondness for each other, yet at the same time had explosive episodes. Their relationship was fraught by jealousy and competition, and they often made each other quite unhappy. There is a lot of mystique and glamour surrounding their extravagant and often frivolous lifestyles, filled with parties, drinking, and mixing with the movers and shakers of New York and Paris: the most influential artists and socialites of the time. I think this was, in part, why I found the novel so absorbing... It has this mysterious aspect to it because the Fitzgeralds (especially Zelda) are hard to pin down as being solely this or that because there are so many different and conflicting representations of them. I was impressed by Fowler's in-depth research and her desire to set the record straight on some of these myths. This book helped me find the essense of the two as individuals and as a couple as well as humanized them in the face of harsh depictions. Zelda, especially, has been painted with a harsh brush: as a jealous and talentless wife, a leech who dragged Scott down, and more. But in this novel you fall in love with Zelda in this novel, despite her faults. You admire her forward thinking ways despite her conservative, Southern roots, her desire to be her own person and to live her own life with her own work.
Scott and Zelda had a relationship filled with many highs and lows. Some would choose to focus on all the things in their relationship that were broken and tragic (there were many), but I liked how this book also showed their deep love for each other and the connection that kept them together while many of their friends and acquaintances at this time were getting divorced. Even after their seperation due to Zelda's metal health, after they hadn't seen each other in years, after Scott's death, you still feel that somehow they continued to have that deep connection and love that made them solely each others.

One aspect of the novel that really interested me was the amount and degree to which Zelda helped Scott out with his writing. To me she didn't get the credit she deserved most of the time as he took large pieces from her diaries and dialogue, was his sounding board for ideas and editing, and his perpetual cheerleader. In fact, it is heartbreaking to see in the novel his disregard for her own work and his lack of support. I hated seeing her work being published under his name or his blatant possession over their lives as his own personal material for his books. The novel did a great job of showing her persective and why exactly she felt unfulfilled, both in her personal life and creatively. I felt that a lot of her mental illness issues were rooted in these feelings: Zelda had a very hard time being limited to only being a devoted wife and mother (the favoured role for women at this time): she liked to be in the thick of things, she wanted to have her own life and her own work, she wanted to be an artist in her own right. However, the time in which she lived did not allow that as shown by her even somewhat unconventional husband putting his foot down on what she could and could not do and the responses of many of the doctors she saw. Women's rights still had a long way to go (and still do).

I particularly enjoyed Fowler's re-visioning of the relationship between Zelda and Hemingway. Factually, there is not a clear understanding of what started the hatred between them, but Fowler's conclusions are realistic considering what I recall of Hemingway's personality (his overtly masculine aggression, his alcoholism, his womanizing) and what I learned about Zelda in this novel (her confident manner, her provocative sense of humour, her dedication to Scott). It would be no suprise to me if it turned out that a failed attempt to woo Zelda brought on Hemingway's disdain for her.

I highly recommend this novel if you are at all interested in the Fitzgeralds, if enjoyed their work, or if you are interested in reading about the lives of two people that are complicated and have depth!

Keep reading!


  1. What a great review! This book has been on my radar for sometime but I haven't gotten around to it.

  2. Thanks Ashley!
    It's definitely worth picking up, especially if you're like me and fascinated by real life literary characters!


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