The Sun Also Rises

sun_also_rises2Hemingway is one of those writers I’ve always felt that I ought to have read, but all that I’ve managed are a few short stories. I enjoyed those well enough to think that his novels would be worth a look, but not so much that I felt driven to leap right into one. Finally, I’ve crossed the Hemingway Rubicon and finished The Sun Also Rises, and I’m glad I did.

I chose The Sun Also Rises as my first Hemingway because I knew that it took place in Spain and involved bull-fighting, and it seemed to me even if I ended up not liking reading an entire novel filled with Hemingway’s spare prose, the bull-fighting would add an element of adventure that would make it worthwhile. Well, it turns out that there’s not lots of bull-fighting here, not until the last half of the book anyway, but I found that the action wasn’t necessary. The intricate relationships Hemingway depicts are enough to carry the story along.

The central character, Jake Barnes, is a World War I veteran whose injuries have rendered him impotent. He now living in Paris and is in love with Lady Ashley, also known as Brett, a beautiful woman who seems ready and willing to “hook up” with any man who comes along. And hook up she does, with everyone but Jake. Much of the story focuses on who Brett is with at any given time and how the other men in her circle, including Jake, react.

Brett’s own motives and desires are not always clear. Is she the new 1920s independent woman, taking charge of her sexuality? Or is she seeking solace with whomever is most appealing and available and uncomplicated? Is she in control of her body? Or is she letting the men around her take control? It would be easy, I think, to write Brett off as a male fantasy/nightmare: the oversexed woman who gives a man all he wants only to emasculate him in the end. That’s how I saw her as I was reading, but now that I’ve finished the book, I feel a certain sadness for her, and I think Hemingway intends for readers to feel that sympathy, but to explain why would spoil too much of the plot.

Hemingway’s style is quite spare. The sentences are short, and the words are simple, but he packs a lot into them. I found that if I tried to read quickly, I missed some of the subtle clues into the characters’ moods and even the tone of their conversation. I took me a while to get into Hemingway’s style, and I missed a lot in the early chapters as a result, but once I made myself slow down and savor, to picture the events in my mind, I found the story and the people in it to be compelling. I don’t think I’ll head right to the library for more Hemingway, but I wouldn’t turn up my nose at the possibility either.

This book qualifies for the From the Stacks Challenge (2 books to go), the 1% Well-Read Challenge (4 books to go), and the Book Awards II Challenge (3 books to go).

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7 Responses to The Sun Also Rises

  1. Gaskella says:

    This was my first Hemingway too (read last yr) and I loved it. I loved the way they got drunk, got bored, squabbled, made up and got drunk again and mostly had a thoroughly rotten time except for little moments of excitement watching the bullfights or fishing.
    I found his descriptions tell it like it is, the dialogue is arch and repetitive, but – exactly like real conversations when you’re ‘tight’ and can’t remember what you just said. However the bonds of friendship are strong, as is the lure of the bottle, and the group emerge to do it all again. In the words of the Louis Jordan song – “What’s the use of getting sober, when you’re gonna get drunk again.”

  2. Riz says:

    I never progressed this far from his short stories…although I did make it as far as The Old Man and the Sea, which is one of my favourite books of all time.

    Just added The Sun Also Rises to my list….hope I can get around to reading it.

    Thanks Teresa,

  3. Jenny says:

    I’m not wild about Hemingway (I compare Maugham and like him a lot better) but I will agree that he’s more subtle than some will give him credit for. He exposes the bitterness and cowardice and willingness to betray even in his own “heroes,” and yet you still sympathize with them. That’s where he and Fitzgerald cross over, in my opinion.

  4. tuesday says:

    Thanks for the great review! This is on my TBR list, and it will also be my first Hemmingway. I once attempted ‘A Farewell to Arms’, but was less than enamoured.

  5. Michelle says:

    I’m currently reading this book. I say ‘currently’ but I can’t read Hemingway straight through… I always need to have about a month’s break in between for me to really enjoy his prose. I am looking forward to the second half now…

  6. Teresa says:

    Gaskella: Yeah, a rotten time is exactly what they had. I don’t know that I their bonds of friendship were strong, although in some cases they were, but it sometimes just seemed like the friendships were convenient—and the bottle tied them together. The pattern was what fascinated me.

    Riz: Those who didn’t recommend The Sun Also Rises to me as a good first Hemingway suggested The Old Man and the Sea instead. It’s one I’ll consider for my next.

    Jenny: Yes, I do like Maugham better as well. I’m still sorting out how Hemingway compares to Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald’s writing is more in the style I usually like, but I felt more empathy for Hemingway’s characters. It seemed like they’d been through so much that their self-destructive behavior was earned, somehow. And there’s a little a little more hope at the end of this than I found in Gatsby.

    Tuesday: I hope you enjoy it. If you’re like me, it might take a while to get into it, but it’s a short read anyway. Once I’d made up my mind about whether I was enjoying it, I was nearly half done, and the ending sealed the deal for me.

    Michelle: I sometimes wish I could take a break from books like this and come back to them, but I find that I can’t remember what happened well enough to enjoy myself. If you liked the first half, you’re in for a treat now—I thought the second half was the strongest part.

  7. Pingback: Enter your November/December ‘08 reviews here : 1% Well-Read Challenge

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