Author: Zelda Fitzgerald
Finished on: 15 July 2017
Where did I get this book: A kindle read
Wow. This book is extraordinary.
I downloaded its sample onto my kindle over six months ago, and finally got round to reading it so I could take part in the twitter book club discussion with the ladies of The Company She Keeps.
It so very nearly didn’t make the full download. This book has some of the ugliest language use and weirdest sentence construction I have ever read in a published novel. Much of the first part of the book is borderline unreadable.
But then, about a page before the end of the sample section, Fitzgerald calms down and starts telling an actual story. So, I gave her the benefit of the doubt and downloaded the whole thing.
And I am so very glad I did.
This is the semi-autobiographical story of a girl from Alabama’s marriage to an artist, their challenging and often troubled relationship, including their life for a time in Paris where she trains to become a ballerina.
Written while she was hospitalised for hysteria, the writing of this book was part of Fitzgerald’s recovery programme, and the sense of a woman trying to reach an understanding of her own life, and the choices she has made, is powerful. I have never in my life changed my opinion of a book so completely between the beginning and the end. By the time I reached the final page, I had fallen head over heels in love with Alabama Beggs, and with Zelda Fitzgerald.
This is a book written with a total lack of sentimentality. Some commentators have criticised her for writing shallow and one-dimensional characters. But I found the opposite to be true. The book is so moving on the relationship between a husband and wife, and between a daughter and father, that it took my breath away on many occasions.
But where I really fell in love was during the long hours spent at the studio in Paris with her Russian Madame, training hard to be a ballerina. There is an almost hypnotic quality about these sections. A rawness and a strange beauty in the daily grind that is so at odds with my preconceptions of the glamorous life of the Fitzgeralds in Paris. Alabama demotes her relationships with her husband and her daughter in order to pursue an unlikely later-life career as a dancer, and there is a convincing vividness to the depictions of life at the studio that had me absolutely hooked.
Fitzgerald has a remarkable gift for pinning down an observation, particularly about people, in beautifully simple and clear terms. When she stops faffing about with endless clashing polysyllabic descriptions that is.
But I ended up loving even the ugliness of some of her writing. It is unique. I’ve never read a book quite like this. And once you’ve fallen in love with a writer, you trust them and will follow them anywhere, enjoying even the frustrations for their novelty.
I am a firm believer in judging a book by its cover; it serves me well. I’m just not so sure anymore of my ability to judge a book on its first chapter.