Thursday, 3 November 2011

THE SUN ALSO RISES by Ernest Hemingway

This book makes you want to run away to be a writer in Paris. It is full to the brim with the romance of Paris by night, and later with the romance of rural Spain. It is also full to the brim with alcohol.

The central character, an American journalist named Jake, has a serious genital injury, received during the Second World War. A British woman named Brett is madly in love with him, but is in fact engaged to someone else, though it is never quite clear what role the injury plays in this complicated situation. Brett meanwhile is also most cruelly leading on a young American named Robert, who, Hemingway never ceases to remind us, is Jewish. These central characters booze their way across Paris, until the festival at Pamploma begins, at which point they move to Spain to continue boozing. It's all terribly tortured up to this point; but after the arrival in Spain the book becomes an account of what Hemingway did on his holidays. This is primarily watch bull fights, talk to the locals, and of course, booze. The genital injury abruptly disappears as a thematic point.

So, from the stand point of plot, certainly on odd book, veering weirdly between sexual drama and travelogue. However one can't help but be impressed by Hemingway's lovely clean, spare prose. I particularly liked:
The taxi rounded the statue of the inventor of the semaphore engaged in doing same . . .
It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is another thing.
Occasionally however even this can be too much of a good thing. Here he is at the end of a paragraph in which he is collecting worms for fishing:
Digging at the edge of the damp ground I filled two empty tobacco-tins with worms and sifted dirt onto them. The goats watched me dig.
Ah, the goats watched me dig. For some reason I find this strangely amusing. I keep thinking about it, and it keeps making me laugh.


  1. I'm glad he was able to make you laugh. I've only read I think two Hemmingway books so far but oh the boooore I found them to be!

  2. Have you ever tried THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA? It's the only one I've ever been able to get behind.

  3. OK I've read 3. I did read it and I did enjoy it more than the others, but mostly I was just glad it was short ;)

  4. Glad to know that you liked this book, Sarah. It was one of my favourite books, when I read it. I still remember the fishing scene which is described in the book - it is one of my favourites. I am not sure what I will think about the book, if I read it now.

  5. i loved the Old Man and the Sea. This one too, actually. I may be misremembering, but I don't think Hemingway ever specified the nature of Jake's injury (i.e. did he get something important blown off, or was it more of a psychological thing).

    People think of him as a "guys' writer" - which I can kind of understand, as meditations on what it means to be a man are probably not that interesting to people who aren't men - but I think the clean prose style holds up regardless.

    Speaking of running away to be a writer in Paris, what are your thoughts on A Movable Feast?

  6. Amy, I applaud you! This is honesty. It is enjoyably short.

    Vishy, I thought the fishing was very lovely, especially when the guy they mee there says: I haven't had such a good time since the war. Rather sad.

    Erol, I never consdiered it might be psychological. That's interesting. Also, I've never read A MOVABLE FEAST. I should get on it. But now I am running away to be a managemetn consultant in Joburg. Perhaps it will have a similar romance . . .

  7. why are some of you bored with Hemingway? Is it a woman thing?


  8. I don't know . . . it may be I guess! I don't know if it's mostly women who are bored by Hemingway. It's just so endlessly tough and reserved . . .