Tender is the Night is a modernist classic. Modernism as a literary movement was largely a reaction to World War I. The horror of war on a global scale was beyond the scope of the imaginations of the people that experienced it. Everything everyone believed was called into question. Everything was shattered, and Modernist artists sought to both represent the fracturing of their world, but also what to do with the pieces. The work of Pablo Picasso, one of our author's acquaintances, reflects this idea, as does Tender is the Night. The literal landscape of the novel, Europe, just after World War I, the characters, and the narrative structure itself, are shattered. The novel can be seen as an attempt to put together the pieces of broken lives in a broken world. (We also discuss Modernism in "What’s Up With the Title.")
This is a famous surrealist quote: "In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o'clock in the morning, day after day." Just kidding. That’s a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Crack Up. But it might as well be a surrealist quote. Surrealists believed that the key to the subconscious (a.k.a., the dark night of the soul) was to be found at night. The idea was to stay awake when you’re supposed to be sleeping, but to live the night like a dream. The characters in Tender are so busy exploring the extremes of love, madness and ambition, that they usually only have time for afternoon naps – if they’re lucky. (For more on Surrealism in Tender is the Night, check out "What’s Up With the Title?")
Because forms of madness are explored in the novel, and because there is an insane asylum (albeit a hoity-toity one for the fabulously wealthy) and because somebody almost drives somebody of a cliff, Tender is the Night is scary. So it’s Horror or Gothic Fiction, it’s as easy as that.
As scary as it is, it’s so a romance, too. The characters love just like they do everything else: to the extreme…
And because of the attention to writing style and the depth and complexity of the characters, you’ll probably find this book in the "Literary Fiction" section of your local used bookstore.