Matt's Reviews > The Sun Also Rises

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
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Aug 22, 2008

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bookshelves: classic-novels
Read in August, 2008

Oh, to have been Ernest Hemingway. Except for the whole shotgun thing.

He was a man, back when that meant something. Whatever that means. He had it all: a haunted past; functional alcoholism; a way with words; a way with women; and one hell of a beard. I mean, this was the guy who could measure F. Scott Fitzgerald's penis without anyone batting an eye. He was just that cool.

I love Hemingway. You might have guessed that, but let's make it clear off the bat. For Whom the Bell Tolls is in my top five all-time fave books (there's nothing better than a literary novel about blowing up a bridge). The Old Man and the Sea is a fever dream. A Farewell Arms is one of the most exquisitively depressing things I've ever read.

Despite my high expectations, The Sun Also Rises does not "rise" (get it?) to the level of those books. Or maybe I'm an idiot. It's possible. This book is supposedly one of his masterpieces - if not his magnum opus. I thought it was - gulp - kinda boring.

Generally, I attempt to avoid using the word "boring" in a review. It's a broad, vague, and diluted descriptor; a subjective one-off that doesn't tell you anything. Its use is better suited for a bitter 10th grader's five-paragraph theme, turned in on the last day of school after that tenth grader skimmed twenty pages, read the Cliffs Notes version, and stayed up all night typing with two fingers. I try to hold my Goodreads reviews to a slightly higher standard (the standard of an 11th grader who is taking summer school classes to get a jump on senior year).

Really, though, that was my impression: boring. Of course, I didn't read this while lapping sangria in Madrid, which I've heard will heighten this novel's overall effect.

The Sun Also Rises tells the story of Jake Barnes, an ex-patriate living in Paris. He was wounded in World War I and is now impotent. He is in love with Ashley, who is a... What did they call sluts in the early 20th Century? Because that's sort of what she is, though she has a tender place in her heart for Jake, to whom she keeps returning. Jake is a journalist, apparently haunted by the war, and he spends his time drinking in Paris. There's also a guy named Robert Cohn, a former boxer, who's also in love with Ashley. Bill and Mike also hang around; Mike was originally in a relationship with Ashley, before he lost her to Cohn, who in turn loses her to a Spanish bullfighter.

The plot, as it is, involves a bunch of drinking in Paris. Jake drinks a lot, stumbles home, then drinks some more before falling asleep. (The drinking and stumbling home reminds me of my own life, which is worth at least one star). Jake eventually takes the train to Spain to do some fishing. Hemingway describes the scene in excruciating detail and you really get a feel for the place:

Then the road came over the crest, flattened out, and went into a forest. It was a forest of cork oaks, and the sun came through the trees in patches, and there were cattle grazing back in the trees. We went through the forest and the road came out and turned along a rise of land, and out ahead of us was a rolling green plain, with dark mountains beyond it. These were not like the brown, heat-baked mountains we had left behind. These were wooded and there were clouds coming down from them. The green plain stretched off. It was cut by fences and the white of the road showed through the trunks of a double line of trees that crossed the plain towards the north.

The book goes on in this manner, for some time. It's as though Hemingway has turned into an eloquent Garmin device. Step by step. The walk to the creek. The heat of the sun. The taste of the wine. It is all very vivid, and beautifully written, but really, it didn't go anywhere. It seemed like filler. Something to break up the constant drinking (while the drinking breaks up the Spanish travelogue).

The lack of a plot normally wouldn't bother me much, but the book as a whole just wasn't working for me. I didn't care for the characters, who are mostly drunken, indolent, well-off whiners. Also, I was intensely jealous of the characters, who are mostly drunken, indolent, well-off whiners. In other words, aspirational figures.

Really, though, I just wanted more out of this book. Hemingway's other works have burrowed deep into my consciousness, so that I find myself referring back to them time and again.

The Sun Also Rises did not achieve this feat.

Eventually, Jake's merry band of drunkards go to Pamplona to watch the bullfights. There is drinking. Fighting. Drinking. Bullfighting. Drinking. Drinking. Passing out. Drinking. I actually got a contact drunk from reading this book.

I imagine that sex also occurred, somewhere in the midst of the drinking and the bulls and the overflowing testosterone, but Hemingway is discrete.

There are some good things, here. As I mentioned earlier, Hemingway is a master of description. His prose is deceptively simple; his declarations actually do a great deal to put you there, into the scene, with immediacy. The book also features one of Hemingway's most famous quotes: "Nobody lives life all the way up, except bullfighters." For some reason, that line has taken on a kind of profundity, though I have to admit, I almost missed it in context.

The best part of the book is the last lines, uttered by Jake Barnes: "Isn't it pretty to think so." I'll leave it to you to determine its meaning. As for me, I am anxiously awaiting the moment when, after a night of hard drinking, I can use this line on someone who has just uttered an inane comment.

Alas, I'm still waiting for that moment. And that gives me all the excuse I need to keep sidling up to the bar, ordering a whiskey straight with a whiskey back, and chatting up the people around me in the hopes that one of the drunks I meet will also be a Hemingway fan.
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02/26/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-26 of 26) (26 new)

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Kaneesha Danae I agree with you. After reading "A Farewell to Arms" I thought that this book would make me depressed in a beautiful way. Instead I became depressed because the book was so boring and I had to read it for class.Perhaps I would have liked it better if Jake and Brett had actually done something about their relationship.Since they did not, I found myself hating Brett for her shallowness and mistreatment of Jake. Even though I thought the way Brett treated Jake was awful, I really could not bring myself to feel sorry for him. I just wanted him to wake up from his dream and find someone that would give him what he wanted.I would much rather read a book about that.

message 2: by Tom (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom Barnes Matt, if I were only looking at the literary merits of the book I might agree with you. But I take another view. Donald Ogden Stewart was among that group with Hemingway that summer and said The Sun Also Rises was a good description of what actually happened.
I liked Hemingway's take on that summer party.

message 3: by Wayne (new)

Wayne But how autobiographical is it????
Was Hemingway really impotent??? And if not, why did he make his character so in the story??
Janet Flanner always said he stole his style from Gertie Stein.

But, Matt, my older sister has just finished and LOVED
Hemingway's "A Movable Feast", short stories set in Paris with H in the first person telling the stories.
If you're feeling a bit disillusioned with the Big Guy perhaps these might be a restorative measure.
I'm looking for them myself but Sydney, Australia is not the place where American books of yore are found in abundance. My nephew's wife, who is a writer and lived in Paris also enjoyed these stories.

And have to agree with you on "A Farewell To Arms"...have never been able to reread it . Too raw!!!
A great read.

Matt Wayne wrote: "But how autobiographical is it????
Was Hemingway really impotent??? And if not, why did he make his character so in the story??
Janet Flanner always said he stole his style from Gertie Stein.


I just started reading Hemingway's First Forty-Nine Short Stories. Hopefully that will renew my faith. "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" was wonderful.

message 5: by Annie (new)

Annie SOOOOOOOOO boring! I agree!!!!!!

message 6: by Wayne (new)

Wayne Hi Matt,
I realised after doing a bit of research that A MOVABLE FEAST is not really short stories, but an account of the different American writers and others and the lifestyle he knew in Paris in the Twenties like Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein,...sounds very interesting, more in the memoir category.
Very divided opinions on "The Sun Also Rises". But the best cure for having read a disagreeable book is an injection of one that you DO like!!!!
Speedy Recovery!!!!
Cheers from ME

Ally The brand new group - Bright Young Things - is nominating books to read in January & The Sun Also Rises is among them. Its the perfect place to discuss your favourite books and authors from the early 20th Century, why not take a look...

message 8: by [deleted user] (last edited Feb 14, 2010 05:19PM) (new)

The line I'll wait a lifetime for:

"Tell him that bulls have no balls!"

message 9: by Nat (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nat First of all, let me say that I LOVE the image in message #8. WHAT A CLASSIC!!!

Second, even though I disagree with Matt's opinion (if he wants action, then read Clive Cussler), I do enjoy his style of writing ("contact drunk"? "I didn't read this while lapping sangria in Madrid, which I've heard will heighten this novel's overall effect."? "I didn't care for the characters, who are mostly drunken, indolent, well-off whiners. Also, I was intensely jealous of the characters, who are mostly drunken, indolent, well-off whiners. In other words, aspirational figures."? Priceless, just priceless.).

But third, that last quote shows where Matt and I part ways; doesn't it strike him as somewhat odd that everyone would be getting drunk all of the time? I would remind him of the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Torah and the Old Testament. It is a profoundly somber text; and when coupled with what Gertrude Stein's driver (or mechanic?) said ("You are all a lost generation"), one gets the impression before even reading the book that this is going to be a somber examination of a painfully lost generation in a microcosm. Many -- if not most -- of Hemmingway's works reflect him in some way; and one CANNOT truly appreciate them unless one has read about his life growing up through his early 20s. Like Jake Barnes, he was a card-carrying member of the Lost Generation, having experienced his own version of Hell as an ambulance driver in the Italian army. He knew damned well what it was like to try to forget one's painful and haunting memories through the use of the bottle; and that's another thing: This novel was written with his contemporaries in mind. He wasn't trying to write for the generation coming of age in 2000-2009. The people who were buying those 1st editions of "The Sun Also Rises" knew exactly what he was writing about. That is what is so haunting about "The Sun Also Rises;" it captures very well -- perhaps TOO well -- the zeitgeist of the times. Those who had survived the horror of The Great War would live to see that their sacrifices were, in fact, in vain; just like the sacrifices of the members of the Lincoln Brigade during the Spanish Civil War were in vain (which Hemmingway wrote about -- it was deja vu for him and his generation). Which brings me back to The Book of Ecclesiastes; if you haven't read it, then you should. Then read up on Hemmingway's early life; then re-read "The Sun Also Rises." What's that line of poetry that goes something like I will know this trail when I have circled around and come back to its beginning? Was it T.S. Elliot? Regardless, when you have circled the path back to its beginning, you will then begin to truly appreciate it.

I think that I do understand Matt's lack of comprehension. I remember when I was reading J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher In the Rye" in the 10th grade for personal enjoyment; when I set it down, the only thing that I knew for certain was that I didn't get it. With enough background reading, I'm sure that Matt will get "The Sun Also Rises."

message 10: by John (new)

John Floozy or harlot, maybe even strumpet.

message 11: by Nat (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nat John wrote: "Floozy or harlot, maybe even strumpet."


message 12: by John (new)

John Nat wrote: "John wrote: "Floozy or harlot, maybe even strumpet."


Nat - my comment was in regard to what sluts were called in the 20th century. Ashley definitely would have been a floozy in the 1900s.

message 13: by Matt (new) - rated it 3 stars

Matt I believe floozy would be correct for the early 1900s. Harlot and strumpet actually connote some pecuniary exchange for services, of which Lady Ashley cannot be accused.

Andrea I completely agree with you, Matt. Hemingway's descriptions are incredible, but his plot in this novel is sorely lacking. As you said, the novel was boring. Plain and simple. And, vague though the term might be, "boring," I think, is a perfect way to describe it. I am currently on my second attempt at wading through this text. My first attempt, sadly, was unsuccessful; The Sun Also Rises is the only novel of literary merit I ever put down and walked away from completely, unable to make it to the end. Like I said, I am currently on my second go-around, and this time I'm determined to finish it (I am not about to leave a novel of this stature lying, collecting dust, with a bookmark waiting expectantly half way through the text!).

I enjoyed this review you wrote, Matt. Actually, I found your review to be more entertaining than the novel itself. Thank you for your input!

message 15: by Ally (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ally The offer is still open to anyone who wants to join the Bright Young Things - we're discussing The Sun Also Rises throughout June 2010...


message 16: by Gary (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gary I find the novel to be anything but boring. I guess you have to have an appreciation for anything "Paris",or European to get this book. I recently reread it again, (after numerous readings over the years), and I still really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the banter of the characters, the writing style,and the sadness of the characters that the party scene truly makes you feel empty and shallow, which I think was Hemingway's whole point. Sooo, either ""get the novel, or find it boring, I guess is the differences of opinions. I've always said a creative mind is never bored.

message 17: by Gary (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gary Rreading Nat's comments, the history of Hemingway's life,and actually someone going through a war that involved most all Americans,and their families,and the emotional roller coaster of war,and the aftermath, makes all the difference as well, in "getting" this novel.

Aleeeeeza this review PEEFECTLY encapsulates all the reasons I simply could NOT get through to the end. kudos to you.

message 19: by Matt (new) - rated it 3 stars

Matt Aleeza wrote: "this review PEEFECTLY encapsulates all the reasons I simply could NOT get through to the end. kudos to you."

Thanks, Aleeza. Those of us who don't like The Sun Also Rises have to stick together and stand strong against the overwhelming opinion that it is Hemingway's masterpiece.

Aleeeeeza Yes! As a matter of fact, I'm not a fan of Hemingway at all. And I'll admit, that opinion's unjustified 'cause I haven't read any other work by him. I hope I get a chance to at one point to do so, but I'm just really not a fan of 'spare prose'.

Jeremy I completely agree. The Old Man and The Sea, A Farewell to Arms, and For Whom the Bell Tolls are among my favorite novels, but when I read The Sun Also Rises I kind of said: "What the hell?" There is virtually no story here. I am a big fan of Hemingway's style, and no one will ever do minimalism better in my opinion, but TSAR is just not my cup of *insert alcoholic beverage here* When I hear this referred to as his greatest novel, I just ponder what it is that people are seeing that I'm not. Maybe I just need to re-read it.

message 22: by Matt (new) - rated it 3 stars

Matt Jeremy wrote: "I completely agree. The Old Man and The Sea, A Farewell to Arms, and For Whom the Bell Tolls are among my favorite novels, but when I read The Sun Also Rises I kind of said: "What the hell?" There ..."


Stay strong! It's not you who needs to re-read TSAR, it's them. Maybe when they do, they'll realize that TSAR is minor Hemingway.

Sparrow That's so funny, this is my favorite and For Whom the Bell Tolls is by far my least favorite, but I agree about Old Man and Farewell.

It's Brett Ashley (first name Brett). But, maybe you used the last name on purpose?

message 24: by Beth (new) - rated it 4 stars

Beth Karhan You clearly lied it! Give another star! :)

message 25: by Johanna Dieterich (last edited Dec 03, 2012 08:29PM) (new)

Johanna Dieterich I wish I could add this review to my Read shelf and write my own review of it. Marvelous, in short. We can all only hope that you find pleasure in using that line successfully soon.

Michelle This might be my favorite review of all time. And for my first Hemingway book! That's a sign for sure.

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