Books,  Reviews

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald – Book Review

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
Published by: St. Martin’s Press
Publish Date: 2013
Produced by: Macmillan Audio
Genre(s): Fiction, Historical Fiction, Historical
HB&W Rating: 5
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Buy on Amazon: Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

“No evil dooms us hopelessly except the evil we love, and desire to continue in, and make no effort to escape from.”


A dazzling novel that captures all of the romance, glamour, and tragedy of the first flapper, Zelda Fitzgerald. 

When beautiful, reckless Southern belle Zelda Sayre meets F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country club dance in 1918, she is seventeen years old and he is a young army lieutenant stationed in Alabama. Before long, the “ungettable” Zelda has fallen for him despite his unsuitability: Scott isn’t wealthy or prominent or even a Southerner, and keeps insisting, absurdly, that his writing will bring him both fortune and fame. 

Her father is deeply unimpressed. But after Scott sells his first novel, This Side of Paradise, to Scribner’s, Zelda optimistically boards a train north, to marry him in the vestry of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and take the rest as it comes.

Synopsis source: Goodreads


‘Gone?’ I would whisper, to no-one in particular. I, too, waited for me to be overwhelmed – but all that happened was what happens to anyone who has lost their one love: my heart cleaved into two parts, before and foreverafterward.

I felt so many things with this book. While Fowler’s more recent book, A Good Neighborhood, is completely different than this, her first book, both show her skill for stripping her characters down and laying bare all the things that makes them human, warts and all.

We glared at each other then, with the kind of hatred that comes from being deliberately wounded in one’s softest, most vulnerable places by a person who used to love you passionately.

Fowler does an excellent job at creating another narrative for “the first flapper” than the prejudiced views Hemingway and his contemporaries had born that have largely passed as truth since. Z is an in-depth look at what it was like for an intelligent, charming, and ambitious woman, a woman ahead of her time, to exist in a world where privileged (read: wealthy and influential) husbands could conveniently pay a doctor to have her declared mentally unstable and locked up in a sanitarium for “re-education” because she dared to think her ambitions equal to his, because of her failure to create a “happy hearth.”

Single women could work all they wanted; married women locked themselves into a gilded cage. All of that had seemed natural before. Now, it made me angry. Now, I saw how a woman might sometimes want to steer her own course rather than trail her husband like a favored dog.

This book highlights the disparity between the sexes in a world that has always favored men. Men who, like Scott, love their wives deeply and are forward thinkers, are still subject to the culture in which they are raised and honestly can’t see the difference between fostering a woman’s ambitions the same way one would foster a man’s. And unfortunately, men like Hemingway, who think it’s their prerogative to treat women as objects, as toys that exist for their benefit only, with no regard for their thoughts or feelings whatsoever.

It also briefly examines mental illness, given that Zelda was institutionalized multiple times. It is a disturbing look into the common practices of the time and the typical thought behind those practices. Read so closely after The Lost Child, which goes into much more detail on the topic, this was especially abhorrent to me.

For us, stars aligned, the gods smiled–prob’ly there was a tidal wave someplace, too, and we just haven’t heard about it yet.

This book was a poignant look into the tumultuous relationship of The Jazz Age’s golden couple, told from a perspective that has gone largely untold. Well-researched and thoughtfully drawn out, I was left feeling like I had met these historical figures in the flesh. If you have the time and opportunity, I highly recommend this book.

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