Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Hemingway is growing on me like a fungus. I'm not totally happy with it but I know it'll be hard to get rid of so I'm somewhat resigned to my fate.
Immediately after I finished A Farewell to Arms I had some rather unkind thoughts about depressed authors trying to inflict the rest of the population with the fruits of their moods, but then I realized that's exactly what I like about Plath. Now that I've had a day to stew and chew on the novel I find that it's lingering; not the characters so much but the places, the rain, the long summer and the smell of hospitals are drifting through my thoughts and making a home for Hemingway in my head.
I do want to pause and make a note here that I pretty much detest stream-of-consciousness. I'll never be comfortable reading Wolfe or Faulkner or Joyce, but in Farewell there seemed to be just enough of that sort of style mixed in with the straight simplicity of honest sentences to add a realistic delirium to a novel that takes place within and around wars and sickness. So, while those few passages immediately raised my hackles, they weren't overdone and made sense (contextually, not literally) for a couple of hundred words at a time.
The book isn't happy but it has happiness. It is sad but there isn't much sadness. But mostly the book is warm. There's a consideration and regard for the simple comforts that one human can offer to another that is stunning because of how underwhelming it is in the novel - Henry is saved by a man he almost sent tobacco to once. He finds his way back to Cat because one of his soldiers didn't want him to be alone. He is injured because he is sharing a meal with his friends. He is fighting for his war-brothers, not for homeland or glory, because he loves them and they love him (in an incredibly masculine and undemonstrative way). The book abounds with humans - the barber who thinks the American is an Austrian, the American soldier who thinks he can sing, the little priest needled at the mess, the two girls riding in the caravan, the count who plays billiards and wants to live forever, the Swiss couple who rent out their upstairs room, and dozens more - all of these are people who serve no real purpose in the story and could easily have been abandoned for the sake of brevity but who were kept for the sake of texture. You walk with Henry and see the faces he sees and never really touches but whom he remembers and holds as part of the tapestry that make up his world.
It's a beautiful, boring, filthy little war that Hemingway put on his page but it's a lovely place full of passing people and situations that brush by you, like strangers on the subway, and push you into a dream.
Anyway, it seems to be hitting me pretty hard. I think I like it.
Hemingway, Ernest. A Farewell to Arms. Barnes & Noble, Inc. New York: New York. 2007. (1929).