Although this was meant to be a book review, DNF being of course Did Not Finish, it would be hardly fair to review a book, in any depth, that I only read half way through. I mentioned in one of my very early blog posts how I struggled to get interested in Hemingway’s books and how much I wanted to like his writing. At the time I had been reading A Moveable Feast – his book of essays about life in Paris when he was a struggling writer. I said at the time of reading it that I enjoyed books, documentaries and movies about Hemingway, but couldn’t bring myself to a state of reading bliss when it came to books written by him.
I thought I would give him, and me, another chance and when I saw The Sun Also Rises on the shelves of Minton Booklovers – a most excellent second hand book store in the city of Napier, New Zealand – I felt compelled to buy it.
I had read, somewhere, that The Sun Also Rises was “a Hemingway masterpiece that salutes The Paris Cafe Scene, Spain and the Lost Generation”. Since all three of these subjects interest me I thought it would be a good read. BUT once again I struggled with Hemingway’s style of writing.
So, what is Hemingway’s writing style? It has been described as “economical, minimalist and sparse with few adjectives or adverbs”….OR “simple, direct and unadorned prose”. He writes giving little or no background information and often refers to it, he, or she without being specific about which it, he or she he is talking about. It has been suggested that his style developed from his days of being a journalist – giving just the bare bones about what happened and nothing else. He certainly doesn’t elaborate about anything. It was almost like stepping into the middle of a story rather than having a beginning and introducing us to the characters, setting the scene etc.
Many proclaim him a genius – a masterful writer. I honestly don’t understand why he is lauded by so many. He tends to provide the reader with the very basics necessary and leaves it up to us to add flesh to the bones of what the character means by what they say or deciding how they feel emotionally. I enjoy stories where I care about what happens to the characters, but it’s difficult to care about a character who is presented as all bones and no substance. There are, at times, occasional pages of conversation between two or more characters where it is difficult to follow who exactly is speaking….kind of like you’re listening into a conversation that you’re not part of, or not even meant to be part of. I felt like the book was some sort of “in-joke” that I was being deliberately excluded from.
I didn’t quite reach the half way mark of the 224 page story before I’d decided that enough was enough, for now at least. I’ll leave the bookmark in there and may get around to finishing it at a later date…..perhaps a bottle of whiskey would help?
Speaking of drinking, Hemingway is often associated with being a hard drinker and a tough fighter, but he claimed to rarely drink while writing. He would usually drink afterwards as a way of relaxing, to subconsciously work over the story in his mind, so that the following day he could continue to work with a clear head. Sometimes I wish he had partaken of a tipple or two while actually writing The Sun Also Rises as it may have relaxed his writing style, made his characters more believable, less wooden and far more interesting.
The Sun also Rises, I’m sorry to say, did not make my enthusiasm for Hemingway novels rise at all.
4 thoughts on “Another Hemingway DNF”
I didn’t develop an appreciation for Hemingway’s novels until I studied their historical context in grad school. Which of course raises the question of whether a novel should be able to stand on its own and still understood without the historical context.
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I feel your pain. Ever since college I’ve taken a few runs at A Farewell to Arms, each time figuring that with age my literary taste would refine. Each time I would get to about mile 9 of the full 26.2 and then drop out. Sometimes I felt as if I had some kind of deficiency in not being able to finish a book by Hemingway.
It’s interesting that the unique style of one author can leave the reader cold and other unique authors can captivate that same reader.
I’m done with Hemingway but enthralled by John Dos Pasos, Mailer and Cormac McCarthy; each with his own unconventional style.
Anyway, thanks for your post. I feel less flawed now.
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Thanks for the comment Paulie. Sorry for the tardy response I must have missed it. Yes, I think that Hemingway is one of those writers we either love or hate. I have tried several of his books and struggled to become enthused. You’re definitely NOT flawed in being unable to finish one of his books.
I haven’t read John Dos Pasos – Can you recommend a particular book? Mailer and McCarthy I have read and enjoyed….even though Mailer has a huge ego I can’t help liking what he writes.
I would suggest The Big Money. It’s part three of the U.S.A. Trilogy but the books stand alone and don’t necessarily have to be read in order or in total.
That said, if you’re feeling ambitious, start with the trilogy from the beginning, with The 42nd Parallel.
Be prepared for a very unique writing style. It was off putting for me at first but with a little perseverance I found it enjoyable.