Review: Z - A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, By Therese Anne Fowler

The secret life of a party girl

If ever a couple crossed the boundaries of representation and became an era, it was F Scott Fitzgerald and his glamorous "flapper" wife, Zelda. They were the Jazz Age. But in closing the gap between representation and "being", they found themselves without the necessary distance to remain whole. Scott would die an alcoholic at 40; Zelda would be incinerated in a fire at a sanatorium.

This question of representation is crucial for Therese Anne Fowler's often superb novel. She makes excellent use of Zelda's biographical details, and pays close attention to the different arguments about Zelda's life with Scott: did she, as Hemingway always insisted, bring her husband down? Or was she, as recent biographers claim, the victim of a controlling husband jealous of her artistic talents?

Fowler's Zelda begins sassy and sure in her home town of Montgomery, where she is the star attraction, never short of boyfriends. Yankee soldier Scott sees her dancing and asks her out. But their courtship is not without problems, partly because her father disapproves and partly because Scott is an unsuccessful writer, unable to support her.

The publication of This Side of Paradise changes all that. Money flowed in and the endless round of wild parties began. Fowler attributes the ceaseless socialising to Scott's need to make friends with the world. But Zelda begins to quieten down and look for something to do, especially after the birth of their daughter, Scottie. She takes art and ballet lessons; writes short stories that get published under Scott's name. We witness Scott's slow descent into drunkenness, and Zelda, bored and isolated, having an affair. Then comes the slide into madness.

At this point, though, the novel weakens. Anyone who has read Zelda's letters and prose will be aware of the jaggedness in her soul – this woman was a handful; she wasn't just playing when she slid down banisters or jumped into fountains. There's a desperation and an edge which can render her unsympathetic. But Fowler's Zelda is largely shorn of these trickier psychological aspects. She gives us Zelda at her best, as a beautiful young thing who becomes aware of women's issues; who is confident, strong and funny. Her mental collapse and her later years are minimised.

Fowler has peeked behind the curtain, but she prefers the show. The difference between the two is slight, but it is real and it is important.

Two Roads £14.99

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea