Saturday, March 15, 2014

Something about bulls?

Confession time: until I finished reading The Sun Also Rises just now, I'd never read any Hemingway other than "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place." I love the short story - the book I'm not so sure about.

I bought my collection of four Hemingway novels because it was just sitting on the shelf, looking pretty, and making me feel guilty about not having read Hemingway. I think I've commented on Literary Canon here before, but in case I haven't I'll let you know that I think it is LARGELY bullshit but has its heart in the right place. No, there aren't a hundred books that will make everyone complete as a person; but there are thousands of books that can inform and instruct your reading. Hemingway is one of Those Authors, one of the Big Names that "everyone should be familiar with" according to some lit snobs. So far I can sort of see why: his style is a knockout. I just can't really bring myself to give a shit about his stories.

This was sort of the same problem that I had the first time I read The Great Gatsby - yes, jazz and yes, booze and yes, party all the time and marvel at the extravagance, but hell, all of these people are terrible and lost and so far removed from me that I can't make them out except as the sketches the author presents and I'm too far removed from the era and the people that I can't tell if it's satire or not and if it is I can't really see what it's satirizing.

It seems pretty clear that one thing Hemingway is not satirizing is anything having to do with bulls. I get the strong sense that he approved of bulls, though maybe he approved slightly less of amateurs allowing themselves to be trampled or gored by them. I think. But I don't know - that's kind of why I'm confused about how I feel here: everything is SO INTENSE that I can't tell if he was actually being serious or writing a stealth comedy.

One thing that I do think was a joke on almost every page of the novel was a sort of implied "Christ, what an asshole" hanging unspoken in the narration. And that was amusing, at least, even if it did make me grind my teeth a bit.

I think it's too soon for me to tell with Hemingway. I've got three more novels to work through in the collection, though I'll take a break with something light before I plunge into A Farewell To Arms. I did enjoy reading the descriptions of the French/Spanish border, the color and fire of the bullfights, the quiet joy of fishing, and the sincere if short-lived friendship with Harris; other than that, Paris left me pissed and Carnival is Carnival, even if it's in Pamplona.

Oddly enough I'm hoping to find more style and less substance the next time around, so here's hoping.

     - Alli

Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises. Barnes & Noble, Inc. New York: New York. 2007. (1926).

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