Saturday, August 30, 2014

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald: a book club review

Oh Zelda. Poor dear confused Zelda. Throughout the entire reading of Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Theresa Anne Fowler I had to keep reminding myself that this book was a novel - a well-researched novel no doubt, but still a novel. It is not a biography. The author is clear on that. It's right there in the subtitle.

And yet, Z reads as much like a biography as any novel can. These are not made up names and unrecognizable characters. F. Scott Fitzgerald, whom we read only the month before, is the most obvious big name. But there's also the villainous Ernest Hemingway, the delightful bit player Cole Porter, and other notables of the jazz age. They are producing works of art we know - songs and short stories and novels.

In the author's afterword she says there are two camps on the Fitzgeralds - one that says Zelda ruined Scott's life, and one that says Scott ruined Zelda's life. My reading of it was that they were some sort of terrible chemical reaction in which two elements are reduced to their worst parts, in this case madness and addiction. Although, how mad Zelda actually was is also up for debate, and addiction seemed to be the oeuvre of their circle.

That Fowler manages to write her take on a possible life of the Fitzgeralds with wit and power while maintaining a relatively neutral tone (although she is very clear that she's camp Zelda, this Zelda is not without her flaws) is impressive. The story has the pacing, character development, and detailing of any great novel, with the biographical details that keep you having to remember - this is not reportage.

Bits of the Fitzgerald's lives made it, apparently, into The Great Gatsby, and likewise bits of The Great Gatsby make it into Z which was really fun to experience back to back. I loved reading about creative people living creative (if often messy) lives. To have a community of artists, writers, musicians, and theatre/movie people all running in the same circles must have been extraordinary. I would love that kind of circle for myself.

I found fascinating reading - whatever is real or unreal, it's a great story well told.

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It was bound to happen eventually. After 14 months this was the first book club meeting that I missed. I was in Ottawa doing training for my volunteer trip to Jamaica. Even sadder, the fabulous and hilarious hostess was hostess for the first time, and I missed it. As I read the novel on the plane I did imagined what the ladies would have thought - I bet the conversation was stimulating and fun and revealing. It always is. 

While I didn't get to attend the August meeting, the lovely ladies of book club did throw me the perfect going away dinner at a local Caribbean restaurant. Over rum punch and jerk meats we laughed, we consoled, we teased, and we generally made me realise how hard it would be to be out of that circle for five months.
Super grainy photo of super awesome women

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