Unfortunately for Zelda, the novel held, for me, little more than a bunch of hot air. I was hoping for more than that. Zelda Fitzgerald deserves more than that.
I was hoping to get a novel that does what novels can do best: probe beneath the surface, give the reader a perceptive writer’s insight into what makes a character tick, paint a picture of the character’s life and times and place her into it in such a way that we become her confidant during the time we spend with her. I was hoping for a Wolf Hall experience, and I know that wasn’t fair. Nevertheless, I was disappointed.
It’s told in the first person, which is supposed to put us in the moment. To experience F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Alabama, New York, Paris, the 20’s, et al. through the eyes of one woman who lived it. But the moment it puts us in is the surface moment, the moment of the daily journal. Woke up, had coffee, argued with Deo. Deo being Zelda’s pet name for F. Scott. Had a grand time swimming in the fountain last night. Really really don’t like Hem. Simply devastated that Deo had my story published under his name. Am I crazy? Everybody says I’m crazy.
Zelda Fitgerald was diagnosed not once but several times with schizophrenia. She was advised (and I did learn this during the course of the novel, so it wasn’t an entirely wasted experience) to give up all thought of personal ambition and to concentrate on being a good wife and mother. Since that time, several psychiatrists have surmised that she suffered not from schizophrenia but from bi-polar disease. There’s a horror story of misdiagnosis and callous treatment in Zelda’s life that deserves our attention. I didn’t really get it here.
I did get a brightly colored balloon full of hot air, gossip, highlights and lowlights. But I didn’t really spend quality time with Zelda Sayre Fizgerald, not in the way that I spent quality time with Thomas Cromwell. The book did, however, inspire me to put Zelda: A Biography on the to-read list, and for that alone it was worth the time spent.
*It seems that the book will soon be a TV series. This is one case where you'll likely get as much out of watching TV as you will from reading the book.