Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Article excerpt

The hotel and its bright tan prayer rug of a beach were one. In the early morning the distant image of Cannes, the pink and cream of old fortifications, the purple Alp that bounded Italy, were cast across the water and lay quivering in the ripples and rings sent up by sea-plants through the clear shallows.

Recognise it? F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night . First page. Hollywood starlet Rosemary Hoyt and her mentoring mother take ground-floor rooms at a quiet beachside Antibes hotel. Rosemary wanders out and on to the aforementioned beach, takes off her bathing robe, wades into a 'blue as laundry water' sea, then 'laid her face on the water and swam a choppy four-beat crawl out to the raft'. Returning ashore, she finds a space on the beach beside a party of rich and languid Americans, spreads out her peignoir on the sand, and lies down to sunbathe.

'Lying so, she first heard their voices and felt their feet skirt her body and their shapes pass between the sun and herself. The breath of an inquisitive dog blew warm and nervous on her neck.'

I love that inquisitive dog. Who hasn't sunbathed on a beach with eyes closed and felt that warm, nervous snuffling? The unfolding story is Rosemary's growing infatuation with Dick, the leader of the languid ones. And I have loved Scott Fitzgerald's pine-fringed prayer rug of a beach ever since I read his patchy novel for the first time in my twenties. That fictional Riviera beach stands out more vividly in my imagination than most of the real ones I've sat on. So, as you might imagine, I was rather excited, while staying last week in Antibes, and idly browsing the web for tourist information, to read that a west-facing Antibes beach called la Garoupe is the selfsame beach described by Fitzgerald at the beginning of Tender is the Night . The link was credible, too. Not every local website that stood to gain commercially by such a glamorous connection seemed aware of it. Apparently, Scott and Zelda rented a succession of villas between St Raphael and Antibes and used to frequent la Garoupe.

I am a literary pilgrim of the most open-mouthed sort. It must be a type of cretinism to enjoy fiction and then physically to visit the settings and to want so badly that the fictions be somehow present and tangible. Perhaps it is a vice akin to masturbation. …

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