Jason Koivu's Reviews > The Garden of Eden

The Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway
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's review
Jul 11, 2014

it was ok
Read from July 06 to 11, 2014

Hemingway knows how to draw up a batshit crazy lady...but to be honest, I'm not even sure this is a genuine Ernest Hemingway novel. It might be a forgery. But we'll get to that later.

The Garden of Eden puts a newlywed couple's relationship under the microscope. David and Catherine are honeymooning in the Mediterranean. David is a writer. Catherine is a crazy bitch. David needs a security, time to write and support in his pursuits. Catherine needs occupation. She has too much time on her hands to allow her off-kilter mind to wander where it will, and it wanders down strange, dark and spiteful paths.

The Eden aspect comes in when Catherine can't leave well-enough alone. (David even nicknames her "Devil" least the metaphor should go over your head.) Everything was fine, yet she had to tamper with the creation of man and woman, what that means, who holds what role and then reversing it.

Hemingway has been criticized for his use of repetitious dialogue, but here it works well to create an aura of crazy. Catherine repeats her insane pleas, her cloying begging, her bizarre demands, and it drives you nuts. So, well done! Hemingway has also been criticized for, well, just being boring. He writes about people doing virtually nothing. As they say, write what you know, and after a while Hemingway did nothing but write, lounge about, eat and drink. So that's what he writes about and honestly, I don't need to know what kind of drink you had, because buddy, you drink inconsequentially ALL the time.

The posthumously released The Garden of Eden reads like a repeat. He worked on it about 20 years later, but it feels so very much like The Sun Also Rises that one wonders why Hemingway would write the same novel over again and try to pass it off as something new. Well, maybe he'd run out of ideas.

Where it diverges is in the sheer nakedness with which Hemingway approaches the transgender subject. Sure, he created manly women in the past, but this is flat out ambiguous and explicit sexuality. I find it strange that he should delve into the topic considering he all but abandoned his son Gregory after he came out to him as a transgender person. The idea apparently seemed abhorrent to Ernest, so why would he write an entire novel about it? Well, maybe he'd run out of ideas. Yes, running out of ideas has become a theme here. I think it's a fair criticism. I mean, if nothing else, you know you've been at it too long if you find that yourself as a writer writing a novel about a writer writing a novel.

Gregory had aspirations to be a writer, after a fashion. In the '70s he wrote a generally well-received biography on his dad. Then this book mysteriously appeared in the '80s. Perhaps the Hemingway family estate was running a bit low on funds and thought, hey, why not refill the coffers with a "new" Hemingway novel. Fans would go gaga over a newly unearthed book by Papa.

I'm jumping to conclusions like taking a leap off a cliff, but stranger things have happened. I don't doubt that there was an unfinished Hemingway manuscript laying about (apparently there was more than one), but there are so many things about this one that lead me to believe that in the very least it was tampered with to a great degree. Here are a few of those things:

The aforementioned deep look into a subject Hemingway seemed to be repulsed by.

At one point the character talks about writing "in dad's style." It's like Gregory giving the reader a cheeky wink-wink. And, whoever the writer is, he does it more than once.

Copying Papa's style is not impossible. In fact, reviewers making fun of Hemingway do it all the time here on Goodreads.

The story David is writing deals heavily with "daddy" issues, which - from what I've read - Gregory suffered severely from.

The big game hunter in David's story is Hemingway and the hunter's son sounds just like Gregory.

He says "fuck hunting". Hemingway would never say fuck hunting! :)

Of course all this could be Hemingway just writing about his relationship with his son, so I don't put a great deal of stock into it. Remember, this is just a loose theory.

Regardless of whether this is Ernest Hemingway's book or not, the fact is, this book is not a good read. There are some good points: the character study of a young author and that of a nutter going off the deep end. But this could've been summed up in half the time. This is not a long book, but it's too long for the very little that happens. Boredom set in for this reader at about the midway point.

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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Anthony Vacca Nifty theory but I completely disagree with Gregory writing this. No hard feelings. Speaking as a certified Hemingway freak in my younger days, there has always been an interest in the blurring of gender roles. It was there in The Sun Also Rises with Lady Brett: her entrance is amid a crowd of homosexuals and she even looks and has a similar haircut to them. Plus there are the various emasculated male characters. To name two, there is Jake, who is physically emasculated, and there is Brett's husband, who acts like an ass because his wife is the source of the money and his role is more of the "female" part of the marriage, in terms of previous notions of heteronormity which define the man's role as dominant breadwinner. In a lot of ways the book was doing a pretty bold look at how familiar gender roles were crumbling and how this affected relations between men and women.

Fascination and horror with transgenderism and transvestitism can also be found in the short story "The Snows of Kilimanjaro." The blurring of gender roles and identities is a theme in most of his work.

And so, The Garden of Eden was probably an even more experimental (for Hem) approach to the gender question, if he had ever intended to finish the work. He was working on this in the late 50's through the earliest of the 60's, which was a time when censor's were finally easing up on the content of books. And Hemingway had been battling censors his whole career, so an even more audacious approach to his subject seems in character.

Sorry for the essay. I rarely get to flex my Hemingway knowledge.

Jason Koivu Anthony wrote: "Nifty theory but I completely disagree with Gregory writing this. No hard feelings. Speaking as a certified Hemingway freak in my younger days, there has always been an interest in the blurring of..."

No, no, don't apologize! I welcome and expected debate on this one. The argument for my theory is made more flimsy by my assertions that Hemingway wouldn't want to touch this subject so deeply, so sexually. I should probably probably drop that line altogether and focus more on the daddy issues aspect. But that too can be explained away. Damn it, I knew I should've taken notes...

message 3: by Jim (new)

Jim Good review. I'm having similar feelings regarding "Islands in the Stream", another posthumous publication. Perhaps Hemingway never had these two published because he felt they weren't up to snuff?

message 4: by Anne (new)

Anne You and your conspiracy theories... :)
Great review!

Greg Z Jason, great review! Absolutely, this novel should have been half the length it is. And it might not be a Hemingway novel at all.

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