The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway's first major novel, focuses on a group of American expatriates living in Paris, and their subsequent trip together to Pamplona, Spain for fishing and bullfighting during the Running of the Bulls. The narrator, Jake Barnes, is a veteran of World War I whose war injuries have left him impotent and harboring an unfulfillable desire for Brett Ashley, an insecure, promiscuous woman. Other characters in include Michael Campbell, Brett's Scottish veteran fiancée, Robert Cohn, a friendly but disliked Jew who can't get over the weekend he once spent with Brett, and Bill Gorton, the group's most lighthearted member and also the only one with no obvious interest in Brett. The tension between the characters comes to a head when Brett begins an affair with a young Spanish matador, and chaos ensues, or as close as the story ever gets to chaos.
The Sun Also Rises is often cited as the greatest novel ever written about the “Lost Generation”, those whose lives were wrecked by World War I. The characters that inhabit the novel are all aimless or incapable of achieving the aims they do have. Jake's emasculating war injury serves as a symbol for his own feelings of powerlessness to control even his own life, let alone to better himself. Robert Cohn is incapable of moving on past a conquest in the past, and incapable of gaining the respect of the others since he didn't serve in the war in any capacity. And so on. Brett herself is probably the most complex character and symbol in the work, hailed as a goddess by virtually every mans she meets and eventually uses. In spite of her cavalier attitude toward those she hurts, however, Brett is a sympathetic character, acting more like a junkie who can't live without a new fix than a seductress who enjoys toying with men's hearts.
There are interesting ideas and excellent scenes in The Sun Also Rises, such as the scene Robert Cohn's assault and subsequent attempt at reconciliation with Jake, or the closing lines, which embody the crushing sadness of the novel in seven words. Ultimately though, I'm not sure The Sun Also Rises was a great fit for me. Aside from Jake and sometimes Michael, none of the characters was particularly sympathetic and, although their constant drinking and talking about nothing at all did a good job of demonstrating how little joy they received from life, it provoked more sympathy than interest from me. I enjoyed The Old Man and the Sea more, but I'm definitely still interested in checking out more Hemingway.