Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
Before F. Scott Fitzgerald was a literary darling, before he’d even begun to imagine The Great Gatsby or Benjamin Button, he was a young WWI army lieutenant who fell hard for a spirited Southern belle named Zelda Sayre. The life he and Zelda would lead together in New York, Long Island, Paris, Hollywood and the French Riviera made them legends, even in their own time. Set amidst the glamour of the Jazz Age and The Lost Generation’s vivid world abroad, Z vividly brings Zelda and Scott’s romantic, tumultuous, extraordinary journey to life.
With Gatsby fever very much infecting the nation right now, I couldn’t wait to start reading ‘Z’, a brand new novel detailing the lives of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald. It is very much reminiscent of Paula McLain’s ‘The Paris Wife’ which I read some time ago and absolutely fell in love with, and follows Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage to Hadley Richardson. All of these people feature in both novels and it’s really interesting to get two different sides to their stories. Clearly Paris was definitely the place to be for writers and artists of all kinds in the 1920s, and both novels will make you want to do nothing more than jump back in time and go to a party until the wee hours of the morning, sipping cocktails and dancing away with these fascinating people.
The thing about ‘Z’ is that you go into it desperate to see the man behind ‘The Great Gatsby’, to see just who F. Scott Fitzgerald was, where he came from, how he found his ideas, and what his peers thought of him at the time. But actually, what you end up discovering is that Zelda herself makes for a very fascinating person in her own right, and I almost found myself more interested in her life at times. To watch this small town girl invest so much of her heart, dreams, and time in this one man who she married much to the disapproval of her entire family, is just incredible. You would expect the wife of Fitzgerald to live very much in his shadow, which I’m sure if he had his way, that’s exactly how it would be. But Zelda is full to the brim with personality and sass and she knows that she wants to make something of herself without Scott. I was very surprised to learn that Zelda wrote and published many short stories of her own, under Scott’s name, due to pressure from both him and their publisher. In truth, the ones she did publish under her own name didn’t receive much critical acclaim, but they were still something of her own out there in the world. Zelda goes down all sorts of paths, from ballet and acting, to painting and writing, but she never quite achieves the success she dreams of.
Most people, who know anything of Zelda, know that she ended up being diagnosed with schizophrenia and admitted into a sanatorium, and I expected the novel to focus much more on this than it did. In some ways I’m glad it didn’t. I think it’s easy to form an impression of someone based on that kind of information, but the author here has focused on the real Zelda, and that is a side of her I’d love for everyone to discover.
It’s impossible not to make comparisons between ‘Z’ and ‘The Paris Wife’, and I have to say I think Paula McLain’s ability to get inside the mind of Hadley Richardson and her marriage to Hemingway was much more powerful than the narrative style in ‘Z’. I felt certain aspects were rushed, and I feel like I would have loved a slightly deeper insight into their marriage. A lot of the passages focus on the parties and other writers and artists that they met in Paris, which of course is fascinating, but sometimes feels a little bit like name-dropping for the sake of it. I would have loved the opportunity to delve into Zelda’s mind, particularly towards the later years of her life. I also felt that it was a shame the novel ended with Scott’s death, making it feel like Zelda’s life was nothing afterwards, even though she lived for a further eight years.
However, this is a fascinating novel to read and one which gives you a truly fascinating and exciting glimpse into what it was like to be alive in the 1920s Jazz Age, and most importantly, what it was like to be married to F. Scott Fitzgerald! It’s easy to see how Zelda became a feminist icon; putting up with Scott, his alcoholism and his old fashioned ideals, was no easy feat. But underneath it all, was undoubtedly a raw and honest love for each other that neither one could escape. I would definitely recommend this novel to anyone, whether you’ve read Fitzgerald or not it doesn’t matter; it’s just a fascinating time full of fascinating people!
‘Z’ is published by Two Roads, and is available now.