Monday, January 19, 2015

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

He was fairly happy, except that, like many people living in Europe, he would rather have been in America, and he had discovered writing. 

Brett was damned good looking. 

"I can't stand it to think my life is going so fast and I'm not really living it." "Nobody ever lives their life all the way up except bull-fighters."

You can't get away from yourself by moving from one place to another. 

As revealed in my review of Zen and the Art of Marlin Fishing, I have not read much Hemingway. I am definitely in the 50 Bookers minority as both Kelly in 2007 and Brent in 2009 preferred The Old Man and the Sea. I vehemently disagree - even though you can't teach The Sun Also Rises and do a Marlin Week with students, The Sun Also Rises is definitely my favorite by far. I probably actively dislike TOMATS. 

Reading this so closely after Ceremony, where the returned vet spends a lot of time crying, it was interesting to see Jake - a WWI vet - crying as often as he does. (It was also weird to see Brett bathe as often as she does - she is constantly going back to the hotel to bathe. Is she trying to wash off the stain of sin or smell of sex? Who knows). 

My few encounters with big Papa really made me believe that I just didn't like Hemingway, so this book was a lovely surprise. Expat narrator Jake is living in Paris, hopelessly in love with Brett, and hanging out with his mostly rich mostly bored expat friends. Boxing, bullfighting, fishing, getting tight (drunk), and being ironic and sad and poignant and honest at all the wrong times. I don't know that this novel is the right one for high school students either because I think the sadness of growing older and feeling unaccomplished is a special kind of sadness reserved for those out of their teens and twenties (I, therefore, don't actually understand it, but Randy explained it pretty well). 
Don't you ever get the feeling that all your life is going by and you're not taking advantage of it? Do you realize you've lived nearly half the time you have to live already?
It's Hemingway, who is not known for his happy endings, but for me, the greatest tragedy of the novel is the change in the relationship between Jake and the Pamplona hotel manager Montoya. They have a special closeness that was built on years of Jake staying at the Hotel Montoya and discussing bullfights, proving that he - in spite of being an American - has an aficion for the fights and is a true afficiando of the bullfights. Their friendship is described at length
He always smiled as though bull-fighting were a very special secret between the two of us...We often talked about bulls and bull-fighters...We never talked for very long at a time...For one who had aficion (passion for bullfighting) he could forgive anything. At once he forgave me all my friends. (this description goes on for two pages)
As Jake and his friends continue to behave poorly - drinking, causing a ruckus, distracting a very young very handsome bullfighter - Montoya's friendliness becomes more closed and quieter until, when Jake leaves, 
Montoya did not come near us.
Losing friendships happens often enough in life, losing love happens in almost every great novel, but to lose the respect of someone truly respected...that's a tragedy. Jake brought his friends into his own special world and they shat all over it until his place in it was completely ruined. So, actually, maybe it is a fine book for students who probably all have a moment of trying to share something special with friends who didn't deserve the specialness in the first place. 

I plan on reading one more Hemingway novel this year before reading the Paris Wife (I really enjoyed her talk and reading on Books on the Nighstand) - so I am curious for everyone's suggestions. I dislike TOMATS and am very fond of TSAR - what should my next Hemingway be?


Brent Waggoner said...

You know, The Sun Also Rises has aged a lot better in my mind than The Old Man and the Sea. It has such a great ending, for one thing.

I think I prefer it now I'm planning to do A Farewell to Arms sometime this year. I have no idea if that's a good follow up. His short stories are pretty great.

Dani said...

I need to revisit Hemingway--it's been about 7 years since I've read any, but I remember loving For Whom the Bell Tolls as well.

Randy said...

The Sun Also Rises is, by far, my favorite Hemingway. I think everything else is...less good.

That said, I've read a number of his novels (4) and a collection of his short stories. I feel like A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls are more representative of Hemingway that The Sun Also Rises or The Old Man and the Sea.

Anyway: I'd vote for A Farewell to Arms.