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Posts Tagged ‘jazz age’

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The fifth book in the Phryne Fisher Mystery series starts with Phryne at a jazz club, witnessing a man murdered right in front of her. He appears to have been stabbed in the chest, but there was nobody near enough to him to have done it. Phryne is right on the case, but as well as trying to solve this murder, she also has an adventure in the Australian Alps while searching for a missing young man – and of course she always manages to find time for a romantic dalliance or two!

I remember the TV episode based on this book, and while the episode left a lot of the story out, I actually prefer it. I do enjoy the Phryne Fisher books when I’m after something undemanding, but they do have something of a disjointed feel about them at times, and I think this was my least favourite so far. Without giving too much away, I think my favourite part of the story was when she went into the Alps – perhaps the change of scene worked to the book’s advantage. I would also like to see a bit of of Inspector Jack Robinson – he is a major character in the TV show, and while I realise that the books came first and it’s actually the onscreen version which changed the character, I think he warrants more attention than he receives in the books.

With all that said however, I am still quite early on the series, and I will continue to read more to see if and how the characters develop.

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The book (apparently semi-autobiographical) tells the story of Dick and Nicole Diver, a glamorous couple, who seem to have it all – wealth, beauty and the admiration of all who know them.  The first part of the book is set near to Marseilles, when a young, emerging film star named Rosemary Hoyt, meets the Divers and falls under their influence, quickly convincing herself that she is in love with Dick.  At the end of the first section of the book, a specific incident occurs, which has a huge impact on Nicole.  The second  section of the book then goes back to when Dick and Nicole first met, and the reader learns that all is not as it initially seemed; the circumstances of their falling in love  throw an entirely different light on their relationship.  The third section of the book deals with the disintegration of their marriage, and the how each of them deal with it.

I was really looking forward to reading this book, because I loved The Great Gatsby, and thoroughly enjoyed Flappers and Philosophers (a collection of Fitzgerald’s short stories).  However, I struggled somewhat with Tender is the Night, and at times it felt like a chore that I had to get to the end of.  I think this is partly because none of the characters are very sympathetic, or even particularly likeable.  It’s difficult not to compare Dick Diver with Jay Gatsby, but whereas with Gatsby, as we learned more about his past, it made me warm to him, with Dick, as the layers were peeled away and we learned more about the man underneath, it made me despise him.  His behaviour in the second section of the book – the ‘flashback’ section – made him appear sleazy and willing to compromise his morals.

That said, I still find Fitzgerald’s use of language to be beautiful and emotive; at times it is pure poetry, and this is what really kept me reading.  The use of the flashback worked for me, although it temporarily put the brakes on the narrative.  There is another version of the book where Fitzgerald swapped the first and second sections around, so that the story was told in chronological order.  This version was apparently not well received, and I think I can see why.  The way the book is written, we see Nicole and Dick as a couple to admire and perhaps envy, then the rug is pulled out from under us as we learn more about the origins of their relationship.  This effect would be lost if the reader knew the truth from the beginning.

My favourite part of the story was the third part of the book, where the balance of power in their marriage shifts, and only one of them benefits.  I’m glad I read the book for this final section, and because some of Fitzgerald’s descriptions of moments and feelings are so wonderfully written, but the characters did not move me at all, and my main feeling once I reached the end of it was one of relief.

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