This book broke my heart and forced me to renegotiate my recent obsession with The Great Gatsby and its author.
Based on what is known about the devastatingly short lives of the couple of the Jazz Age, Fowler has created a version of what may have occurred.
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald is told in the first person over a period of twenty years, which adds to the sense that you are inside Zelda’s life. Fowler traces Zelda’s young adulthood in the haze of the First World War; Zelda and Scott’s courtship; their marriage and its disintegration; and leaves us with a wrap up of the short gap between Scott and Zelda’s deaths.
“and his speech had that dramatic flair you find in people accustomed to playacting in theatre, as I was. When you’d spent so much time performing on stage, the habit bled into your life.” p 23
I read this book slowly, devouring the writing and the detail. Fowler captured the essence of a woman who saw vivid colour, tremendous highs and shocking lows.
The presence of Scott’s control of her was abundantly clear and grew from a restraining hand on her arm (to stop her talking in a way he didn’t like), to the black eyes, to the threat of taking her daughter away and culminating in his keeping her locked up in an asylum.
“I learned that if I consented to his outings regularly enough, on other nights I could go do what I preferred.” p 223
The treatments she received in the asylums sickened me. I so dislike how they treated those whose differences they did not understand. How could they think that pumping poison into someone and causing seizures could help?
The ‘reeducation’, the idea that her sickness came from her not putting her family first, and the fact that Scott, so clearly ill himself, was able to keep her locked up and (basically) tortured – chilled me. Explorations into our not-so-distant history provide all the fodder we need to populate the dystopian and horror stories that we are so enamored with.
Fowler has created a convincing interpretation of what could have been the story of Zelda Fitzgerald. One of wasted potential, of being misunderstood, of embodying the culture of the Jazz Age.
A beautiful, engrossing and lyrical read.