Thursday, May 1, 2014

"The Sun Also Rises" by Ernest Hemingway

If I needed to sum up this story and these characters in one word, it would be 'desire.'  If I were permitted two words, I would add 'disappointment.'

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  I meant to say first that this is the first Hemingway novel I ever read.  I'd read a short story or two in high school, and during my freshman year at college, my friends and I watched City of Angels (1998) a lot.  Hemingway's memoir A Moveable Feast figures prominently in the movie, and I decided to read it once school was done.  But when I got home that summer, I discovered my library didn't have it.  They did have this, and the quote from Ecclesiastes inside intrigued me, so I checked it out.  I can still remember that copy, old and rebound in that funny, rough hardcover stuff libraries used to use.  Bright orange.  I felt so intellectual, reading Ernest Hemingway at nineteen.  Reading and enjoying him.

I didn't quite get everything that was going on, that first time through.  Or rather, I didn't quite get that the protagonist, Jake Barnes, had been emasculated by a war wound.  I knew he'd been wounded, I knew he was angry and disappointed about things, but Hemingway implies everything about the wound, in his inimitable way, and I didn't figure it out.  Not that it mattered, because I was perpetually drunk on his prose.  Hemingway was unlike any writer I'd encountered up to that point -- strong, evasive, beautiful, ugly, and with such a feeling of truth running under everything.

Okay, back to 'desire' and 'disappointment.'  From here on, there are spoilers. 

As I said, Jake Barnes was wounded in WWI in such a way that he's no longer able to have sex.  He's a foreign correspondent for some American newspaper, living in Paris in the expatriate community.  And he's in love with Lady Brett Ashley, a divorcee with a fondness for alcohol and sex.  She's almost in love with him too, but because he can't fulfill her desires, she knows she'd never truly be happy with him.  So she is engaged to a guy named Mike, but goes off on a trip with another guy named Cohn, and then dumps him, and later takes up with a bullfighter and has a fling with him instead.  And Jake tries not to be miserable during all that.

Like I said, it's all about desires and disappointment.  Jake and Brett desire each other, but can't do anything about it.  Mike and Cohn and the bullfighter desire Brett, but are all disappointed when she leaves them for someone else.  Brett desires them too, but they all disappoint her one way or another.  In the end, no one really gets what they want.  Jake at least seems to understand that what he wishes could have been between him and Brett might not have been as wonderful as they can always imagine it would have been.

And if that sounds sordid and depressing, you're not wrong.  Or right.  It's not completely sordid in that Hemingway never actually uses the word 'sex' or describes anything of that nature, other than that sometimes characters kiss each other.  Everything else is implied -- even the characters talk around it.  And it's not completely depressing because by the end, I feel like Jake at least has come to accept what can and can't be and can move forward with his life a bit.

My one quibble with Hemingway's writing is that he often does these long conversations with not enough dialog tags, so I have to go back and reread parts to figure out who's saying what.  But I've become resigned to that issue, as his writing delights me otherwise.  

Particularly Good Bits:

"I can't stand it to think my life is going so fast and I'm not really living it" (p. 18).

"You can't get away from yourself by moving from one place to another" (p. 19).

It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is another thing (p. 42).

He was the archivist, and all the archives of the town were in his office.  That has nothing to do with the story (p. 102).

"Good.  Coffee is good for you.  It's the caffeine in it.  Caffeine, we are here" (p. 120).

The things that happened could only have happened during a fiesta.  Everything became quite unreal finally and it seemed as though nothing could have any consequences.  It seemed out of place to think of consequences during the fiesta (p. 158).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for language, alcohol use, oblique references to sex, and violence.

EDIT:  I forgot to mention there are some racist comments made about Jews, and the "n" word gets used in a matter-of-fact way, not as a slur.  Remember, this was written almost 90 years ago, when things were a lot different.

This is my eighth book read and reviewed for the Classics Club, and my fifth for the I Love Library Books challenge.

31 comments:

  1. I have to confess I haven't read much Hemingway. It often takes me too long to get into. But I feel now like I should try again!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. He takes me a long time to digest. When I got this, I was like, "Oh, 250 pages -- I should be done in a week." Took me three. He's very prose-heavy, and I love his descriptions, so I actually read them instead of skimming like I do in a lot of other books.

      What of his have you read? Maybe I could recommend something you'd like better.

      Delete
    2. "I asked Hemingway for one week of reading... he gave me three."

      Couldn't resist.

      Delete
  2. Hi Hamlette! :-) Quick question here, but I was just curious–as the reader (when you’re finished) what broader view of the world would you say you carry away with you that you didn’t have before? Is it a story more of redemption or anti-redemption (spiraling downwards)?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would say I come away with a better understanding of how people could throw their lives away chasing something they know they can't have. But I feel it ends positively, with Jake Barnes realizing that even if he and Brett could have gotten together as a couple, they probably wouldn't have been happy the way they imagine, and that he's better off this way in the end, with that dream of happiness intact.

      Delete
    2. I know Hemingway was no Christian (right?), but do you think he's making an honest point then that these physical things won't give complete satisfaction? And we can't-and shouldn't-look to them for ultimate fulfillment?

      Delete
    3. Hemingway was raised by devoutly Christian parents, but he himself... I don't know. He does have some very Christian themes to his books, characters who are Christians (Jake Barnes in this is a Catholic, though he believes he's not a very good one), and surprisingly enough, more of a moral certainty going on in a lot of his works than I'd have expected.

      A big part of this book is disillusionment. Physical relationships don't bring lasting happiness, and neither to fame and fortune. Think of that repeated phrase from Ecclesiastes, the book where Hemingway got the title: "Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless and grasping for the wind." That's pretty much how the "Lost Generation" saw the world.

      Delete
    4. Okay, I see. Most interesting. I've never read anything of his in its entirety, but maybe I'll have to give it a try sometime. :-)

      Delete
    5. Very funny! I've been following all the succeeding comments and The Old Man and the Sea was what I began years ago, too-and the reason I haven't returned to Hemingway either. Apparently a bad reason. :-) If I tried him again sometime, what would you recommend to begin with?

      Delete
    6. Hmm. You might really enjoy "By-Line: Ernest Hemingway." It's not fiction, it's a collection of articles he wrote for various magazines and newspapers over the years. Full of flavor and good writing, so you get a good feel for his style, but you don't have characters and themes to wrestle with. Otherwise, I really enjoy his Nick Adams stories too, which you can get all in one paperback book.

      Delete
    7. Thank you! I'll have to look into them...and that OM read-along sounds pretty interesting, too. :-)

      Delete
  3. "The Sun Also Rises" was one of the first "classics" I read when I was in high school. It was great then and when I re-read it a number of years (OK decades) later, it was just as incredible. I think it will always be my favorite.

    And you are the first person I've encountered to bring up the long conversations! While frustrating (sometimes I wanted to write in my book "Brett, Jake, Brett, Jake..."), I've come to accept them for the genius of Hemingway's words and the beauty of his stories.

    Thanks for a great post. It makes me want to read it again!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is my favorite of all the Hemingway novels I've read. Totally because I really like Jake Barnes, and Bill is a hoot.

      I do really dig Hemingway's dialog -- it all rings so true. Nothing is wasted. But a tag here and there would be nice. Especially since sometimes he's got three people talking. Or one person will say two things, but it's not readily apparent it's them talking both times. But just goes to show no writer is perfect! Comforting thought.

      Have you seen the movie? I'm in the middle of it, and will be reviewing it on my other blog on Monday as part of a blogothon to celebrate Tyrone Power's 100th birthday.

      Delete
  4. Oh, this was a great post! I've never read this one, BUT I own it. Yay! Which means it is on my TBR list somewhere, and I will read it one day.

    My first Hemingway was The Old Man and the Sea, which I read in fourth grade. It was my absolute favorite for a long time. But when I read it as an adult some years ago, I was frustrated by the author. Now I think I need to read it again to understand why.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh my goodness, you read Old Man in 4th grade? Wow! I read it in college. Not a fan, actually -- it's probably my least-favorite of all his stuff I've read so far. And I know so many people who read that one, hate it, and think all his books are like it. They're not! He himself referred to it as "a stunt." I should probably re-read it myself and see if I can figure out now what it is I disliked so much.

      For years, my m-i-l kept saying she hated Hemingway, she couldn't understand why I love him. Then I finally asked her what she'd read of his, and all she'd ever read was Old Man. So I gave her a copy of his Nick Adams stories and recommended she try "Big, Two-Hearted River" and see if she still hated Hemingway. She discovered she liked it quite well! Well enough that she read the rest of that collection, anyway.

      Delete
    2. We should do a RE-read Challenge of Old Man and the Sea one day and try to figure it out. I still have a desire to read Hemingway, even though I fell out of love with OM.

      Anyway, I went to Catholic school, and they were all into pushing the classics; so by fifth-grade I read stuff that I wouldn't even consider having my kids read until high school...like The Scarlet Letter, The Pearl, or Of Mice and Men, b/c of its dark or heavy contents.

      Thanks for the suggestions. I've never even heard of Nick Adams stories.

      Delete
    3. You know, that is a fantastic idea! Hem's birthday is July 21, we could start it then? Or else, it was published in book form on September 1, 1952, so that could be a good starting date too.

      I was homeschooled and my mom pushed the classics too, but not quite that early, lol. We did a lot of classic children's lit and YA lit, and if I got into something else, yay for me. I read an unabridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo on my own initiative when I was 11, which is the first big classic I can remember reading. Oh, and I'd read pretty much all of Louisa May Alcott's books by the time I was 12.

      Anyway, you can get the Nick Adams stories all in one book -- this is the version I have. Otherwise, you might also like By-Line: Ernest Hemingway, which is a bunch of his newspaper and magazine articles and essays. If you want some non-fiction instead. I heartily recommend both.

      Delete
    4. July or September sounds fine with me. It's a novella, so it shouldn't take too long to read through. Thinking about it may take longer.

      Wow! Your mom was probably one of the pioneers of homeschooling. Well, that's amazing that you even knew about Count of Monte Cristo by 11. I'm sad I was not introduced to Alcott's books until I became an adult.

      P.S. That link in your comment isn't working. I click on it, and it just sits there. I'll try later, but I don't know why it's not responding.

      Delete
    5. I'm aiming for July, because I just remembered I'm doing the Tolkien week blog party in Sept. again. And you're right -- we may use more words to discuss it than are in the actual book!

      My parents were in that first wave of homeschooling. There were very few others when we first started, though by the time I was 8 or 9 there were enough around that we had a homeschooling 4H group. But those first years must have been kind of terrifying for my mom, wondering if this would work.

      I learned about Monte Cristo from a lit book that had a little radio-style drama about the part where he meets the Abbe Faria and plans his escape. It entranced me -- I would read it over and over and over. Which led to me wanting to read the actual book, so I did. I know I was under 12 because I remember reading it at the orthodontist and the assistant wondering what on earth that big old book on my lap was, and I got my braces off right after my 12th birthday.

      The link was just to the Amazon page for the book I have. Weird that it's not working. Oh well, not important!

      Delete
  5. I've only ever read The Old Man and the Sea, which I did in high school, and I actually liked it! I admit it was a lot to sift through, and that's the reason most of the people I know didn't like it. It has so much emotion and symbolism tied in with the action--every word felt meaningful.

    Your review gave me the impression that the tone of this book is similar to Wuthering Heights (at least until the end). Is this true? I was planning to read more Hemingway at some point, but I don't think I need that much drama right now with my other reads. I like the quotes you picked, though!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I really think I'm going to do a read-along for Old Man here once we finish LOTR. It will be a good incentive for me to actually dig into the text and figure out if I still dislike it or not, and if so, why. Especially since I've read a LOT more Hemingway now than I had when I read it the first time. I think I'd read Sun and one of his short story collections, and that was it.

      I greatly dislike Wuthering Heights and have only read it once, so I can't say for sure how the two compare. What I took away from Wuthering Heights was that selfish love isn't a true love and can cause people to do awful things. What I got from this is that getting and losing what you want can be worse than never getting it at all. And that friendship can be stronger than physical attraction/love. I don't feel it's a depressing book at all, but I've been finding a lot of blog posts about it that disagree.

      If you want a fun book of just Hemingway quotes, there's a great book called Ernest Hemingway on Writing by Larry W. Phillips -- like the title says, it's all about Hemingway's advice about writing, thoughts about it, etc. I think it would be fun to read even if I wasn't a writer!

      Delete
    2. I would say that's probably what I gained from Wuthering Heights as well, although I didn't regret reading it, because it was well-written. There have been several books like that, I guess--ones I didn't necessarily enjoy, but I appreciated for their literary value. I was thinking more in terms of tone than moral, though.

      That sounds interesting--although I'd like to read at least one of his other novels before reading a book of quotes, probably.

      Delete
    3. What I recall of WH was dreary. Lots and lots of dreariness. TSAR isn't so much dreary as tinged with regret and bitterness, but it certainly isn't dreary.

      I have to say I didn't even appreciate WH's literary merits much, but I did read it when I was probably 20 or 21. My main thoughts, as I recall over a decade later, were along the lines of, "When will this get interesting?" and "When will this end?" Like I said, I greatly disliked it. I really don't understand the appeal, I guess.

      Delete
    4. A young Timothy Dalton. That's the appeal! :P Seriously, I saw the movie version with him before I ever read the book, and as long as I pictured the movie as I read, it was more bearable for me. Something about the extra emotions portrayed, perhaps, so it didn't just seem as if the characters were angry or depressed all of the time. Who knows.

      Delete
    5. Well, maybe I should find the Timothy Dalton version! I've seen the Olivier one once, and... I really like Olivier in Rebecca and a few other things, but sometimes he leaves me cold, and that was one of those times. But I LOVE Dalton as Mr. Rochester, so I could see myself watching WH for him ;-)

      Delete
    6. It's really good. Still sad, of course, but the role is perfect for the broody Dalton.

      Delete
  6. I got my first taste of Hemingway this past semester with "Hills Like White Elephants." It was really tricky (but delightful) to analyse and pick apart, since there was a lot of the same use of Hemingway's "Iceburg Theory," with those vague implications that kind of fly over one's head easily. "Strong, evasive, beautiful, ugly, and with such a feeling of truth running under everything" really is the perfect way to describe his writing. Much of the beauty is hidden underneath a grizzly and frequently vague surface. You have to dig a little bit to get the payoff. Very neat stuff.

    (It's funny that you mention Hemingway's long, untagged conversations, since that short story was written almost entirely in that same back and forth dialogue. In the end, I actually had to print out a new copy of the story and highlight each character's lines in different colors just to keep each character straight!)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ahhhhh, yes. "Hills" gets taught a lot in college for some reason. Weeding out the people who don't get it? Not one of my favorites, but meaty.

      I'm glad you like the way I described his writing! I was trying really hard to convey just what it is I love about the way he writes, because he's such a divisive author -- people seem to like or hate him, and sometimes people seem to think liking him makes you pretentious or snobby or something. And the truth is, I just love how he puts words together. Almost like a bricklayer in his precision and strength.

      If I'd been reading my own copy of this, I would have penciled in some dialog tags to make my next reading easier. Just might have to get my own copy and do that.

      Delete
  7. I think Desire and Disappointment would have been an excellent title...though it might be mistaken for a Russian novel. You clearly enjoyed The Sun Also Rises more than I did. Excellent writing of course, but I found the disappointment (and the drinking) a bit depressing.
    My own review: http://100greatestnovelsofalltimequest.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-sun-also-rises-by-ernest-hemingway_29.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think if Fitzgerald had written it, Desire and Disappointment would have been an excellent title.

      Off to read your review!

      Delete

What do you think?

(Rudeness and vulgar language will not be tolerated.)