By Ernest Hemingway
This novel drew me in— as most Hemingway stories do— with its prose. I love how bare bones it is. He uses as few words as possible to convey his scenes and descriptions, and something about the LACK of floweriness makes it masterful.
The story follows Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley to Spain, where they enjoy a fiesta and the running of the bulls. Jake and Brett fell in love during the war but are no longer together due to an injury Jake sustained that makes him impotent. The two are joined by a motley cast of characters, most of whom are writers and WWI veterans. The book follows the characters passing from one bar to the next, talking about everything and nothing, with a small break to watch the bull fighting toward the end.
Halfway through the book, I thought to myself “these characters are all horrible people.” Their lives are empty. They rove around purposeless. Most of the time they struggle to even like each other. They’re all horrible to Robert Cohn. They don’t seem to have jobs beyond writing, yet they never write. Brett is obsessed with sex and men and— above all else— herself. Each of them is borderline alcholic.
It was my impression that, had Jake not been injured, he and Brett may have had a decent life together. But the farther I get from the story, that impression grows uncertain. Her strong affection for Jake seems to have grown more from sentimentality than any real conviction of love for Jake. He is, in her mind, a connection to a moment she felt love; couple that with the fact she cannot have him and you see she’s made him into a fairy castle in her mind. When she gets low, she lives in the ghost of Jake’s arms. The fact that she occasionally finds solace in his actual arms just makes her seem monstrously selfish to me.
It isn’t a very long read, and although the prose is sparse, the characters and themes are not. There is a lot one could dig into in this story.
© 2022 Katie Baker