It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed anything Hemingway so rereading The Sun Also Rises reminded me why the man is so revered. The seemingly simple writing and easy flow of dialog made this a reading treasure.
A group of expatriates living in Paris plan a fishing trip to Spain to culminate with bullfights in Pamplona. Perhaps it is true that you really get to know people when you travel with them. Well we certainly get to know this crew as they drink themselves into oblivion and behave quite badly along the way. They are what is known as members of the lost generation whose outlandish behavior is said to be a means to detach themselves from the atrocities of WWI.
We first meet Robert Cohn as a young boxing champ at Princeton and falsely assume he is our main character. He is subjected to anti semitic treatment for the first time and literally fights his way out. He marries, fathers three children and divorces. Urged on to Europe to pursue his passion for writing by a forceful woman, he does so and falls in with expats in Paris, leaving her behind. Like many men before him, Cohn is smitten with Lady Brett, who he spends a weekend with, and like those men before him, is ‘summarily forsaken.
Jake Barnes narrates the story and doesn’t exactly paint himself in any flattering lights; impotent from a war injury, he yearns for love with Lady Brett, but knows her passion requires more than emotional adoration. (For what it’s worth, I think Brett would dump Jake like she does all her other bed partners.) He seems to be the most self-aware, yet carries on with blind acceptance.
Promiscuous and hard-drinking, Lady Brett Ashley makes no apologies for her self-indulgences and does as she damn well pleases. Every man who meets her falls in love with her, but she is satisfied with the frequent weekend rendezvous which allows her to move on to other conquests. She shouldn’t be likable, yet she is. Perhaps it is the hints of an abusive relationship or the trembling of her hands before her first sip of a cocktail that allow her to garner some sympathy.
The young bullfighter, Pedro Romero becomes a fascination for the entire group of travelers, who all seem to adore him, but, alas, he captures the eye of Brett, who enjoys his bed for a short while and then abruptly sends him packing.
I feel a bit hypocritical here because I shouldn’t like any of these characters whose same qualities I recently criticized in my review of Point Counter Point. They are racist, hedonistic boozers. Their appeal is most certainly due to the Hemingway’s writing skill and of his ability to make the unsavory quite savory.
A nice little lunch with Mr. Hemingway would be a thrill. Perhaps we could sip some Fundador and discuss his days as an expatriate in Paris. Not sure I’d be able to match the likes of this hard drinking literary genius, but I’d give it my best shot.
My rating for The Sun Also Rises is a 9 out of 10.
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