Eliane's Reviews > For Whom the Bell Tolls

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
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May 17, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: the-reading-group-1992-2007
Read in September, 1999

I don't think any of us expected to enjoy or admire this book as much as we did. There is no doubting that it is a masterpiece.

Hemingway's ability to sustain the plot is superb, maintaining suspense and interest in the three day long story of a guerilla attack. Much of the story is taken up with waiting - Robert Jordan gets to know this band of guerillas and falls in love. As he comes to know the characters of Pablo, Pilar, Anselmo and the rest, so do we. Some of these characters stand out so strongly: Pilar, the old woman leading the band with such strength of character; Pablo, the disillusioned drunk with a strong survival instinct.

The language is, as everyone always says, deceptively simple. In speech, Hemingway recreates the Spanish in English, which seems clumsy at first but once you become accustomed is somehow more powerful than if he used idiomatic English. And in places, when describing emotions, thought processes or pain, his language runs off into streams of consciousness, reminiscent of Faulkner. Particular passages come to mind as outstanding - Pilar's telling of the overthrow of Fascists in the town, the massacre of El Sordo, the final assault on the bridge.

This is a meaty book about big ideas - it deals with life, death, love and comradeship. Hemingway is clearly writing from some knowledge of both Spain and the Spanish Civil War and this imbues the book with an undoubted authenticity. His cynicism over the involvement of outside parties in the war and his ability to present both the guerillas and the Fascists they are fighting as ordinary men, give this book a political edge rendered the more powerful because of the historical setting of the novel and our own knowledge of the aftermath.

It is far too easy to caricature Hemingway as the macho huntin' shootin' fishin' novelist - and we were definitely expecting that. We were wrong - this is a great book by a great novelist. Read it.
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