jcg's Reviews > The Sun Also Rises

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
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Aug 20, 08


It's odd to read something that I first read in my early twenties. The book didn't make much impression on me at the time, but now that I have read more and have actually met people much like those in the book, I find the story very real. Hemingway's characters are actually fairly simple, they have one dominant feature that defines them and motivates their actions.

Hemingway shows very effectively how the things we are supposed to keep hidden come out in conversation in the form of nasty comments.

I think this book has to be seen in the context of early twentieth century American literature to be appreciated. An interesting character study with Jake, the man who is not a man, and Brett, the sexually liberated woman. Brett is polyamorous and all the men want her to be monagomous, to act the way a woman is supposed to. The effects of her actions on everyone else are devastating, but only because they won't surrender their preconceived notions of propriety and the male right to possess a woman.

The language is spare and almost everything of value is communicated through dialogue. Oddly, there are almost no descriptive words, such as, "he snarled angrily." Hemingway relies almost exclusively on, "he said," letting the tension be built by the words of the characters and not by the narrator editorializing.

There some odd storytelling techniques. The book opens with a tell-all biography of Robert Cohn. It's odd because this is a completely different form of storytelling than is used in the rest of the book.

Also, when two of the characters fight, we hear it described by Brett as told to Bill who tells Jake - so the narration is three times removed from the action. In fact, much of the action is at arms length. For instance, while in Pamplona, Jake learns what happened in San Sebastian.

Hemingway doesn't often indulge in foreshadowing, but there is one odd bit. When Romero is beaten up, part of the dramatic tension is if he will be able to appear in the ring the next day - has Cohn's jealousy over Brett destroyed Romero's brilliant career. But earlier when a man is killed while the bulls are running, Hemingway tells us that the particular bull will be killed by Romero the next day and the ear given to Brett - so we know before hand that Romero will fight. That rather diminished the drama of the fight scene for me.

There is an enormous amount of alcohol consumed in the book and one wonders if this had anything to do with the fact that prohibition was in effect in the US, the book was published in 1926 and prohibition wasn't lifted until 1933 - it described a world inaccessible to the American public.

It's not a long book and is rather slow going until Jake reached Pamplona. By the time Jake and Bill were fishing in the mountains I was desperate for something to happen. It did.
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