This is well-researched piece of historical fiction which, notwithstanding the good intentions of the author, falls rather flat. It tells the story of Zelda Sayre Fitgerald's life from the time she met her husband Scott in 1918 until his death in 1940, covering their courtship and marriage, their "Jazz Age" antics in New York, their life together in France, Scott's alcoholism and Zelda's mental health problems. Fowler squarely puts herself in the camp of those who take the view that Zelda's breakdowns were chiefly caused by her failure to conform to expected female behaviour and to the repression of her artistic potential by her insecure and abusive husband.
I don't know enough about Zelda Fitzgerald to assess the accuracy her characterisation as a sensitive and intelligent woman unable to achieve her potential because of the repression of women in marriage in particular and society in general. That's a good thing, because I came to the novel without preconceptions or expectations. However, I recognise anachronisms when I see them, and they abound in this work. Further, even though the dialogue is marginally less flat than that in [b:The Paris Wife|8683812|The Paris Wife|Paula McLain|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1320545874s/8683812.jpg|13556031], Zelda generally sounds less like a real person and more like the author's idea of her.
There was a time when I didn't read historical fiction in which the central characters are real people because I preferred to read a biographer's take on the primary sources than a novelist's reinterpretation of biographical material. Hilary Mantel is the writer who converted me to the idea that this kind of historical fiction could be as or even more compelling than a good biography. Suffice to say that Fowler is not Hilary Mantel. That said, her writing didn't bore me, it wasn't difficult to read and it's made me interested enough in Zelda Fitzgerald to want to read both some of her writing and a biography. And that's a very good thing.
I have my dear friend Jemidar to thank for this book. She knows just what I need to feed my obsession with the Lost Generation.