But Dick Diver – he was all complete there. Silently she admired him…his eyes were of a bright, hard blue. His nose was somewhat pointed and there was never any doubt at whom he was looking or talking – and this is a flattering attention, for who looks at us? – glances fall upon us, curious and disinterested, nothing more. His voice…wooed the world, yet she felt the layer of hardness in him, of self-control and of self-discipline, her own virtues. Oh, she chose him, and Nicole, lifting her head, saw her choose him, heard the little sigh at the fact that he was already possessed. – p. 28.
Dick and Nicole Diver is the golden couple on the French Riviera during the roaring twenties. They are good looking, wealthy, charismatic and throw fabulous parties. The instability and weakness of the Diver’s marriage is revealed when Rosemary Hoyt, a movie star on the rise, becomes swept up in the Diver’s life. Rosemary plays only a small role but she sets off the avalanche that will change both Dick and Nicole. Dick has a weakness that suggests the opposite to how he is perceived and Nicole is revealed to have a traumatic past. From the onset, the foundation upon which the Diver’s built their marriage is rocky and clearly unsustainable.
Fitzgerald explores the Diver’s relationship and their fatal flaws. His given subtitle to the novel – Tender is the Night: a romance – drips with irony on the novel’s conclusion. There is nothing romantic or soppy in here and it is by far not a romance novel. Instead, it is an exploration of human weaknesses and ideologies and their dance with darkness. This is very much Dick’s story as we are given a ‘flashback’ to his past and then proceed to watch his downward spiral in his future. Spanning over five years, we follow the slow but inevitable combustion of the Diver’s marriage.
Fitzgerald ultimately focuses on Dick. Nicole remains quite ambiguous throughout the story so perhaps my dislike to her is deliberate. It is somewhat a heartbreaking and slow burning tale and very much filled with poignancy.
After being very let down by my first reading of The Great Gatsby, my love for this book probably makes up for my primary disappointment with the first Fitzgerald.