Hem all the way

I think crafts and food have dominated here for a little while too long.  It’s time for another bit of book review, except this time, it’s an author rather than one book in particular that I want to talk about.

Some you may know that my dissertation is on Hemingway.  Quite a lot of people are surprised by that.  Not only is he an outdated author, he is also gruesome, gritty and pretty chauvanistic.  But I think there’s more to him than that.  I’m not saying I would have liked him had he still been alive (he would be old… 113 by now!) but I don’t think his literature should be shelved (ha-ha book pun) just because some of it is outdated.

If you are going to read Hemingway, take note.  Not very much happens.  Ever.  The most I can guarantee you is that someone will either have sex or die.  But don’t worry you’ll only get a graphic scene if it’s the latter.  Hemingway is more about people, how they interact with each other and how extreme situations affects them.  So if, like me, you are interested in how people work, Hemingway is a great read.  If you like complicated plots, however, steer clear.

One more health warning: Hemingway is racist and he swears a lot.  If that’s going to bother you, just don’t read Hemingway.

My favourite Hemingway isThe Sun Also Rises.In this novel Jake Barnes deals with life after the war by partying at the fiesta in Pamplona with his nearest and dearest.  Of course it isn’t that simple but I don’t want to give away all the juicy bits (oo-er).  This is a really interesting snapshot of Europe in the 1920s, I love all the idiomatic speech and the general devil-may-care attitude towards everything, but the excessive drinking and anti-senitism can get a bit tedious.

A Farewell to Arms is one of Hemingway’s most famous novels.  It follows Frederic Henry, a volunteer ambulance driver on the Italian front and his love affair with nurse Catherine Berkeley.  I found this novel a little too close to the bone.  Hemingway deals with war and bombing scenes in a very blunt way.  It isn’t simpering or patronising but it just gets a little too much.  This definitely isn’t one for the sentimental.

If you are a fervent feminist, you might want to read For Whom the Bell Tolls.  This is the only Hemingway novel I have read that has a strong woman in it who isn’t just evil.  Her name is Pilar and she’s pretty kick-ass.  But you might be frustrated with Maria, the main protagonist’s love interest.  Again this can be a little unrelenting with the gore of war but the characters are intriguing.

The last really well known novel I want to summarise is The Old Man and the Sea.  This was the novel that sealed the deal for Hemingway’s Nobel Prize for Literature.  But I’m not sure why.  It follows Santiago, an old fisherman who catches an enormous marlin.  This is a novel about the strength of human will and the power of nature, but it left me feeling disatisfied.  I’ll let you find out why for yourselves if you are interested, it’s only 99 pages long.

I think Hemingway is grossly undervalued but at the same time, I am more than aware of his flaws.  It seems a shame that such a talented man should be condemned as outdated when his writing still applies to the fundamentals of humanity and still carries worthy messages.  If everyone just read one Hemingway before they passed judgement, I’d be happy.  But I can’t promise that old Papa Hemingway would really care either way…

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