Set on the French Riviera in the 1920s, American Dick Diver and his wife Nicole are the epitome of chic, living a glamorous lifestyle and entertaining friends at their villa. Young film star Rosemary Hoyt arrives in France and becomes entranced by the couple. It is not long before she is attracted to the enigmatic Dick, but he and his wife hold dark secrets and as their marriage becomes more fractured, Fitzgerald laments the failure of idealism and the carefully constructed trappings of high society in the Roaring Twenties.
This somewhat autobiographical novel is an interesting read, not only for the story itself, but also for the extra examination of Fitzgerald’s dependency on alcohol and his wife’s
The old cliché about Americans who visit other countries is reinforced here as many of the characters retain a strong American identity but seem purposefully oblivious (and superior) to the cultures that surround them. The locals tolerating their shenanigans partly because of America’s role in the war and, inevitably, the riches brought to a shattered continent recovering from the horrors of the First World War.
There is a vacuous nature to the majority of the characters, at one point I began to wonder if I would be bothered by the fates of any of them. In a world filled with frivolous parties and empty conversations, the carefully manufactured and cultivated superficial facades mean so much to the characters, who like actors are putting on a well rehearsed show.
“When there were enough Americans on the platform the first impression of their immaculacy and their money began to fade into a vague racial dusk that hindered and blinded both them and their observers.”
This artificiality leads – or rather doesn’t – to a lack of character development. The stagnancy of the people met through the years is pitiful. The squandered potential and sheer aimlessness of each day, the pointlessness of their routines, and the overall meaningless lives they lead devoid of anything redeeming in quality is frankly staggering.
Fitzgerald’s writing is the highlight of the book, the way he composes his descriptions are delicate and poetic, restrained yet often bursting with wonderful words. Whilst the book sprawls over four hundred pages he packs a lot into his succinct descriptions.
Structured into three parts, the first sets the scene and I enjoyed getting familiar with the feel of time and place, and the establishing of characters and themes, even though it felt devoid of a specific point. The second part is where the book becomes more interesting as the reader learns about the history and lives of the Divers and their changing relationship with Rosemary,
Part three was the best part, and was well worth all the build up, yet it peters out in terms of a satisfying conclusion. Despite that I didn’t feel like my time had been wasted on the book, it leaves plenty for the mind to ponder on when the cover has been closed.
Its collected strands make this a fairly compelling read which I’m glad I undertook. Each individual factor within the sum however would encourage me to read other books if taken by themselves, but combined they make for a sufficiently satisfying read.