Ok, before I commit the sacrilege of dismissing this "classic," permit me to establish my Hemingway bona fides: I have read and loved just about everything else he wrote, and have taught Sun Also Rises, Farewell to Arms, and many short stories, and had a blast doing it. I've read Carlos Baker's classic bio, and numerous critical articles on H. I've made the pilgrimage to Key West and taken pictures of his study and the hordes of 6-toed cats. I dig Papa, ok?
But I can not stand this book! I should say up front that I've never been able to tolerate it long enough to finish it -- twice. First time was nearly 30 years ago, and as a fairly recently discharged Army troop,I took up this book with much anticipation and excitement. I couldn't get past about half way through. I found the prose so incredibly flat and dull as to be soporific (and, yes, I fully understand and appreciate H's famous "Iceberg Principle" of writing -- "the thing left unsaid" etc). The problem wasn't the "thing left unsaid;" the problem was too many things said, and in a very boring fashion. How could a book with such a dramatic plot be so dull, I wondered in shock? It's all in the language, or lack thereof. I have a theory that great short story writers often don't make great, or even good, novelists, because the voice and style that works so well in the shorter genre just doesn't translate to the longer one (John Cheever, case in point; IB Singer, to a lesser extent). Now, of course, H. did write great novels; this just isn't one of them. Take away the language in H's novels, and what are you left with -- borderline juvenile adventures and fantasies, or at best, semi-journalistic accounts.
Compare the opening of Bells with the opening of Farewell to Arms: be honest and tell me if you hear even one faint echo of the magical rhythm of that famous opening in Bells -- anywhere, not just the beginning? And the dialogue, sweet jesus, joseph and mary, I've heard corporate phone recordings with more intonation and human warmth.
A few months ago, our book club selected this novel. At first, I kept my opinions to myself and hoped I would have a different response reading this time. I readily acknowledge that my reading tastes have evolved -- matured, I hope -- significantly over the years, and maybe I just had a tin ear 30 years ago. Not the case. I couldn't even get beyond the first 6 pgs this time. That flat voice was duller than ever! "Waterboarding would be more tolerable than reading 400+ pages of this stuff," I thought. I've choked down some mediocre books before for the sake of fulfilling my civic duty as a long-standing member of our book club, but I couldn't do it this time.
This is not to suggest that the rest of you are wrong. I have a dear friend who's read more great literature than I can remember, and he loves this book, and expresses great shock when I tell him how much I hate it. But there it is.