West of Sunset by Stewart O'Nan (♦♦♦)

After his stunning success as a writer chronicling the glittering Jazz Age, Francis Scott Fitzgerald squandered his well-earned fortune partying and traveling the world in style beside his wife Zelda. Eventually, they fell on hard times, with Zelda having to be treated for mental illness in clinics in Switzerland and the States.

Meanwhile, after calling a few favors, Scott had a—not quite successful—second stint in Hollywood, towards the beginning of WWII, as a screenwriter for several movies that were never made. With his few royalty earnings and a dwindling salary, he had to pay for Zelda’s clinic, Scotty’s private schools, and his ever more constrained lifestyle.

I had a mixed experience with this book. The first 100-150 pages were solidly four stars, and read like Fitzgerald’s novel The Beautiful and Damned, which is no coincidence considering that that novel was mostly autobiographical. The first half of West of Sunsethad the feel” of a Fitzgerald novel, not so much for the lyricism but for the writing style, but in the second half, that Fitzgerald feel” was drowned by the repetition of Scott’s transgressions: getting drunk, begging his lover for forgiveness, making up, asking his closest friends for money, transgressing again …That’s where O’Nan lost me, in the nitty-gritty of the everyday life and the failures of an alcoholic.

The fact that West of Sunset was told from Scott Fitzgerald’s POV didn’t help the story, because by the end he was consumed by his addiction, his regrets, his failures, and the financial strains that he had on his shoulders by virtue of being the head of the family, and supposedly the only responsible adult.

DISCLAIMER: I received from the publisher a free galley of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Comments

  1. I had trouble with this one too...I just got bored. Night after night of drunkenness is just boring to read about. And, I missed the presence of Zelda...the true spark-plug in that relationship!

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    1. Yes, it got boring and repetitive. You're right, Zelda was a firecracker.

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  2. I liked this book better than you did: the look at life in Hollywood in those days, the interactions with Hemingway and others, and a dissection of what happened to Fitzgerald written with some sympathy for the guy. In fact, I liked it better than the great man's novels which have always annoyed me for various reasons.
    Here is my review: http://keepthewisdom.blogspot.com/2016/01/west-of-sunset.html

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    1. All those elements that you point out worked in favor of the novel, and for half of the book I almost loved it, but alcoholism doesn't make for an entertaining topic, and relapse and broken promises get repetitive after a while.

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  3. Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald are certainly one of the most tragic couples in the history of American literature. And the greatest tragedy perhaps is that they brought so much of it on themselves. I can understand how reading of the unrelenting squalor of Scott's later life would be repetitive and boring.

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  4. Interesting review. Yeah Tender Is the Night seemed pretty autobiographical in parts too and also was tedious in parts. Fitz had such potential, that's why it seems so tragic.

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    1. I read about 50% of Tender Is the Night earlier this year before putting it aside. Not only it bored me senseless, but it didn't seem the same Fitzgerald of his other novels.

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  5. Excellent review, Carmen.
    I always loved the couple Zelda & Scott. That is the reason why I read countless books but many were poorly developed written and looked like copy paste of others.
    Have a great week ahead :)

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    1. Thanks, TRT! This one covered a different period than other novels, but like I've said, it got repetitive and boring after a while.

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