*image via GoodReads
“Marry me, Zelda. We'll make it all up as we go. What do you say?”
Growing up in Montgomery, Alabama, Zelda Sayre was destined to grow old as a Southern Belle debutante, married off to a well-to-do man who would expect her to hold down their household.
Barely out of school she happens to meet handsome, young Lieutenant Fitzgerald, who sweeps her off her feet with poetic phrases and promises of a glittering life as the wife of a soon-to-be legendary author. After a brief break in their engagement, the two eventually wed and set off into the sunset to live their happily ever after.
If this was a fully fictionalised book this would've been the end to their story, but ‘Z’ follows the Fitzgerald’s lives through Zelda’s eyes as they navigate their way through the early roaring 20’s and the jazz age, during which Zelda was dubbed ‘the world’s first Flapper’, and lived in seemingly wedded bliss.
The novel also follows their strained relationship as they travelled through Europe and America, dealing with jealousy, the birth of their daughter Scottie, chronic alcoholism and depression in a world that begs them to join the excess and partying that ultimately leads to their downfall.
So what’s my verdict?
Going into this book and knowing nothing of the Fitzgerald’s lives, I was intrigued by everything that happened in this story. In a world that focuses so much on celebrating the literary genius of F Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda is often left towards the sidelines as the ‘first flapper’ or ‘crazy wife’. ‘Z’ does portray her as both, but there is a depth to her character that is deeply rooted in her – later diagnosed – bipolar disorder.
This book is just as much about her relationship with Scott as it is about her and her struggles. We see her deal with his rising and falling literary career, his lapses in his alcoholism and the strain of their marriage. At times it did feel like I was reading a train wreck ready to happen, and it is true that the two Fitzgerald’s perfect bubble of a life burst eventually, but I had to keep reminding myself this is a dramatisation of reality.
There was also a point, mid-novel, when the story seemed to slow down into a repetitive cycle of Zelda or Scott screwing up the relationship, then magically making it up to each other with no resolve. One lasting conflict I did, however, enjoy was Zelda’s tense relationship with Ernest Hemingway, and her paranoia that Hemingway was attempting to prise Scott away from her.
Overall the writing is fairly poetic, to fit with the dramatisation, and it did feel like Fowler transported you back to that time period. However, it’s in Zelda’s voice that Fowler really shone as she captured both the euphoria of young love and heartbreak of Zelda’s conflicted mind.
Though at times she may seem so, Zelda is not a tragic character. She’s was a woman who was, perhaps, ahead of her time. Damaged and broken, but pushing for independence, had she lived in another age she may have thrived, but would she have had the same mystique that surrounded her as ‘muse of F. Scott Fitzgerald’? Who knows?
For lovers of…The Great Gatsby, The Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath) & Next To Normal
This post was written by regular reviewer Ria, get to know her here.