Thursday, November 12, 2009

Review - The Sun Also Rises

I have had very little experience with Hemingway prior to picking up this book. For some reason I had it in my head that his writing would be haughty, inaccessible and laborious to read. I was pleasantly surprised that none of my preconceptions were true.

The writing style in Sun Also Rises is fluid, simple and easy to follow. His sentences are short and easy to follow. His dialog is natural. His descriptions are straightforward and to the point.

Even though the simplicity of the style made the reading quick and easy, I quickly saw that there was a lot going on "between the lines." As terse as much of the writing is, it was apparent that what was left out was just as important (perhaps more so) than what was on the page.

As a case in point, nowhere in the book does Hemingway explicitly identify the nature of the wound that Jake received in the war. In fact, if a reader wasn't paying close attention, the importance of that wound would quickly fade into the background. However, there are plenty of clues as to the type of injury and the nature and extent that it has affected Jake's life. The injury was probably the largest case of something "not written" that was important. There were a few other instances where I felt like Hemingway was leaving out significant details while alluding to their importance.

The character development in the book was very interesting.

With the first person narrative, we only really get into Jake's head (although, as mentioned above, there's plenty of detail he leaves out even about himself) and everything is tainted by his view of life. At first his view felt fairly realistic and trustworthy but it quickly became apparent that he was jaded and cynical.

I felt like we got a pretty good feel for Cohn by the end of the novel. His character seemed to be the most straightforward and easy to understand and also seemed to follow along with the narrator's initial description of him in the opening.

Lady Brett Ashley's character was a bit more troublesome. She generally felt like a party girl who absolutely loved life and was always happy, but as the layers came back, she had more emotional depth than first expressed.

The other characters in the novel were intriguing but again it was hard to unravel their motivations and get at the heart of their character because their words and motives were often veiled by volatile or sullen behavior. The various lovers of Brett and friends of Jake were interesting but seemed to serve as reflections to play off Brett and Jake and let us gain more depth into those personalities. The drunken repartees and the random banter was funny at times, harsh at others.

The overall tone of the book was almost paradoxical. As readers, we're following around a group of expatriates as they party and travel around Europe reveling and enjoying life for all its worth. From a high level, you would think that this would be great fun. But as we drill down into the hearts and heads of these characters, the true story became rather depressive. Instead of a semi-aristocratic party crowd, in the end it felt like we were following a bunch of slovenly lounge-a-bouts who only lived for the next drink.

Both Brett and Jake had a yearning for some true emotion or passion in life but neither was able to find a clear path to that state of happiness. Instead, all of the characters lived lives of broken, or disabled, relationships. They wandered aimlessly through life spending money like water in order to try and find some sort of emotional high (or perhaps a liquor induced numbness) to detract from their otherwise unfulfilled lives.

After reading this book, I have a desire to seek out more Hemingway and read more of his stuff. I really enjoy the style he used in this book and found his characters intriguing and approachable. The story and emotions were thought provoking and effective.

Definitely recommended.

4 out of 5 stars
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