Zelda Sayre is a vivid eighteen-year-old from Montgomery, Alabama, always the life of the party, when she meets F. Scott Fitzgerald. The youngest in her family, Zelda loves being the center of attention, and Scott is happy to put her at the focal point of his universe – for a time. As an aspiring author, but simultaneously a man who enjoys having fun, Scott is torn between numerous passions in a way that isn’t clear to Zelda when they meet. When they marry, they’re both certain that their lives are going to be full of success and love, with no perception of just what might happen when two vivid personalities clash.
I knew very little about Zelda Fitzgerald before I started reading this book. I had heard before that she had held back Scott’s career and that she’d been in a mental institution; I’d also read somewhere that she and Scott loved each other despite the difficulties. This book gave me a lot of insight, I felt, into the kind of woman Zelda might have been, and went a long way towards explaining how two people can love each other an absurd amount and yet hate each other at the exact same time.
The novel starts with Zelda as a young, impressionable teenager who meets Scott and completely falls for him, a Northerner with ambitions completely different from any that the boys she knows have. They quickly marry and the book spans the rest of their lives up until Scott’s death, so we get an insight as to how Zelda may have felt about all of his achievements, including his lack of them at times.
What I also really appreciated was that the novel gets across how Zelda might have felt as the wife of a man who was famous. She suffers hugely from a lack of her own identity, which made perfect sense to me; how would an ambitious, talented girl feel when she’s constantly shuffled to the side? I can’t imagine now, for myself, living in a time where my only duty was to keep house for my husband, simply because I’m not the sort of person who would be happy pouring all of my effort into someone else’s life without any real recognition of my own. This is especially true for Zelda, who watches as her husband spends the hours he’s meant to be working with a bottle in his hand, and who feels that she’s lost her own identity to support his. Her struggles were so clearly understandable to me and I could feel their mutual frustration pouring out of the pages. What’s heartbreaking about this book is that it’s also obvious that they do love each other, but it’s a destructive kind of love that is powerful but takes something huge out of both of them.
I also hadn’t realized that Zelda was a creative force in her own right, painting, writing, and dancing in a way that might have brought her recognition on her own. Perhaps not if she’d never met Scott, but once she has a foothold in the creative world, she keeps on going. She had her own art exhibitions and she was invited to dance professionally; she even had her own published novel and short stories. I had never had any idea, and now I’m actually very curious to read the fictional accounts, on both sides, of their marriage.
A wonderful book that brought a historical figure to life for me, Z is a spellbinding read. Highly recommended.
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