Our fantasies can be beautiful decimating things. No matter who we are and where we are.

It is an alluring and haunting message and one that has remained with me many years and many books later.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s final completed novel is often overshadowed by its younger sibling, The Great Gatsby. However, and perhaps controversially, I consider Tender is the Night to be this author’s magnum opus.

I have heard Fitzgerald’s work criticised as being a series of novels that are all about the same thing: the rises and falls of rich socialites. There never fails to be a man whose talent is never truly appreciated alongside the fiery woman whose eccentricity defines her. They fall in love while simultaneously hating each other, and then life gets in the way.

Perhaps this is partially true. 

It is often noted that Fitzgerald wrote about his own life, and therefore it could be argued that his novels are simply the veiled recollection of different periods of his own socialite lifestyle. But no matter your opinion on this, what is crucial is the lens through which his novels present their stories. This is where the sheer, unabashed beauty of Tender is the Night shines and why it burns brightly in my mind all this time later.

Fitzgerald’s prose is some of the most elegant work out there: it flows and flows and flows. It reads like a dream and often has imagery akin to one too. His work is literature as paintings and Tender is the Night is most definitely something blue and abstract.

It is haunting. It has the same charm that fills The Great Gatsby only it is melancholic, at times bitter, and ultimately regretful. I consider it to be the quintessential story of a person losing it all.

I wish to avoid spoilers as I want people to read this book and appreciate it as much as I do. But I will present the beginning.

The French Riviera in the middle of the 1920s. A beach. A beautiful beach. A terrible beach. It is summer, the sun is glowing, and the sand and sea even more so. A talented psychiatrist who no longer practises is married to the woman he loves –  his wife and (former) patient. They own and run a small but lavish hotel together. They are known for their parties and the fun and chaos that comes with them. They themselves are known for being the stuff of dreams, both beautiful and intelligent.

Then a young Hollywood starlet arrives. 

Then Hell breaks loose.

Our three main characters, Diver, Nicole, and Rosemary, are some of Fitzgerald’s most realised and well defined people ever put to print and all three are as agonisingly entangled with each other as can be.

I do not like any of the characters in this book. It is not a novel I find inspiring or one which gives me an ideal I strive to achieve. I love it purely because of the pain it presents, an all too relatable sensation. It is a story that stays with me because it is about people with failings, failing. 

Something that happens all too often in the real world.

But at least with Fitzgerald, failure can be as beautiful as the shores of the Riviera.