70 Days With Hemingway And Me

Every Novel, Back to Back, Starting With the First

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The Sun Sets on The Sun Also Rises

June 24th, 2009 · 1 Comment · The Sun Also Rises

Last night, around 11:58, I finished The Sun Also Rises.

I’m not sure I liked Hemingway’s second novel. But I’m not sure I didn’t, either. I read it, got caught up in the transient nature of the ex-pats, who traveled all over Europe but mostly – from the perspective of the protagonist, Jacob Barnes – from Paris to Pamplona, Spain…who drank gallons of alcohol (including the legendary beverage of choice for artistes of all stripe – absinthe)…who watched bull fights…got in fist fights…and who loved and lost.

What’s not to like?

As with The Torrents of Spring, I tried to find deep meanings in the words and experiences of the book’s main characters – Jacob Barnes, Robert Cohen, Lady Brett Ashley, Mike Campbell, and Bill Gorton – but I found none. In fact, the entire book may very well be summed up in the words of a waiter serving Jake: “That’s it. All for fun. Fun, you understand.” (p. 205)

Throughout the book there is – to use Jake Barnes’ words – “…a lot of drunken talking.” (p. 181)

In Pamplona, it was one big fiesta for everyone:

The next day Pedro Romero did not fight. It was Miura bulls, and a very bad bull-fight. The next day there was no bull-fight scheduled. But all day and all night the fiesta kept on.” (p. 175)

These people – always described as “tight” or “blind” – drank everything from wine from leather wine-skins to beer to wine from bottles (which they carried everywhere, even fishing) to absinthe. Lots of absinthe:

“Come on over to the cafe,” Bill said. “I want an absinthe.”

We watched the beginning of the evening of the last night of the fiesta. The absinthe made everything seem better. I drank it without sugar in the dripping glass, and it was pleasantly bitter.

We had another absinthe.

“What’s the matter? Feel low?”

“Low as hell.”

“Have another absinthe. Here, waiter! Another absinthe for this senor.”

“How do you feel?”

“I feel like hell.”

“Have another?”

“I won’t do any good.”

“Try it. You can’t tell; maybe this is the one that gets it. Hey, waiter! Another absinthe for this senor!”

I poured the water directly into it and stirred it instead of letting it drip. Bill put in a lump of ice. I stirred the ice around with a spoon in the brownish, cloudy mixture.

I sat down the glass. I had not meant to drink it fast.

“Don’t drink it fast that way. It will make you sick.”

“I feel tight.”

“You ought to.”

Hemingway’s fine-point description of the running of the bulls in Pamplona could only have come from actually seeing it happen, being there. Perhaps evening running with them a time or two. Although I intensely dislike bull fighting, I enjoying Hemingway’s precise, yet picturesque, depiction of the fiesta and the bull fights.

It was an interesting book. Not a great one. But one that managed to capture a certain period of history – when men were men, women were woman, all were heavy drinkers, and life was one big party.

What’s it all mean?

Why, nothing, dear reader. “That’s it. All for fun. Fun, you understand.”


One Comment so far ↓

  • Kevin N

    This is a strange odyssey. You spent 70 days with Hemingway, but don’t seem to like his work much. This is probably the finest novel ever written, in my opinion, but you don’t think it’s that great–I wonder why you stuck with the project.

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