Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Bored by Hemingway

I tried again last night to read The Sun Also Rises. No particular reason: I was in between books, felt like I wanted some fiction, flipped through a few, reading the first page or so of this, the first paragraph of that, before arbitrarily deciding to give the Hemingway another go. It's not going to happen. I get no pleasure from the prose. I find young Mr. Jacob Barnes, the narrator, exceedingly annoying, and the no-pleasure-in-the-prose factor makes that a major problem. I don't care about Robert Cohn or the rest. I'm not interested in characters who are supposed to be metaphors for the Lost Generation. I don't care about any of it. I made it through the first three chapters, approximately 25 pages, about a tenth of the thing, irritated the whole way, telling myself the while that it'd come into focus, I'll get into it. But, no.

I went through an earlier period scorning Hemingway, without really knowing what I was talking about, outside of hated forced readings of short stories (about fishing, I'm almost certain) in high school. Then I took a stab at this same novel, made it 80 pages in, decided it wasn't for me, but without the scorn. I was younger, read too quickly, and his writing didn't fit in with the more expansive, language-drunk novels I was reading at the time. Since then, I always told myself I'd read it; it would be the Hemingway I'd read, since I really don't want to read his war novels. But, again, no, finally, I'm not going to. I'm not going to read any further. I'm giving up on Hemingway.

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8 Comments:

Blogger Clavdia said...

I'm not much of a fan either, but I love A Moveable Feast -- it's not a masterpiece, but some of the descriptive passages have stuck with me after many readings.

--Lauren

July 01, 2009 7:56 PM  
Blogger Lloyd Mintern said...

I agree, Hemingway is a bore. You got him right.

July 03, 2009 2:42 AM  
Blogger stuart said...

Not read any of his novels, but I must say his short novella about fishing is one of my all-time faves! I love the line in it, something like: A man may be destroyed, but never defeated.

July 07, 2009 9:31 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Thank you all. Lauren, I've heard some interesting/amusing/appalling things about A Moveable Feast, enough to make me sort of curious, but probably not curious enough to read it anytime soon.

Stuart, I admit that I'm loathe to simply assert that Hemingway sucks (though that assessment seems surprisingly popular these days), despite my repeated failure to read him with any pleasure. I know that several writers I admire got something out of reading him, and that's enough for me. He's just not for me.

July 07, 2009 11:52 AM  
Blogger Finn Harvor said...

"I went through an earlier period scorning Hemingway, without really knowing what I was talking about, outside of hated forced readings of short stories (about fishing, I'm almost certain) in high school."

Richard, not the only one negatively conditioned this way (it happened in Canadian high schools, too). However, may I recommend one more before you give up on him altogether? Try FIFTH COLUMN AND OTHER STORIES, all set during the Spanish Civil War. They capture something complex about Hemingway -- not only emotionally, but intellectually/ideologically. They also capture something about a major historical event that tends to get reduced, by nano-memory of post-post-post modernity, into nothing more than a sound-blip. Start with "The Denunciation". The spare style works.

July 09, 2009 10:47 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Thank you, Finn. I should say that I'm not opposed to a spare style, not at all. I appreciate the pointer to those stories. I will indeed give them a shot, if not right away. I am, after all, very interested in the Spanish Civil War, and would like to see the style put to different use.

July 10, 2009 9:47 AM  
OpenID tpfkazrs said...

his writing didn't fit in with the more expansive, language-drunk novels I was reading at the time.

Do you remember any of these novels?

August 31, 2009 1:19 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

I'm thinking of Gaddis, Gass, Barth, Rushdie, even Nabokov, Martin Amis, Will Self... though "expansive" doesn't really apply to all of these, I'd say "language-drunk" does... I wrote about this in some more detail here.

August 31, 2009 2:04 PM  

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