Gail's Reviews > A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
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Jun 08, 2009

it was ok
bookshelves: book-club, classics
Read in June, 2009

** spoiler alert ** I know this book is a classic and there's always a part of us that feels obligated to say something great about a book described as such, is there not?

But I struggled with this one. For every person who might love Hemingway's sparse prose, I found it TOO sparse. To the point (and I've never done this with a book before) where when I read it, I found myself saying the words in my head in a staccato fashion. Over the course of 300-plus pages of reading a book as such, it became an annoyance - like a case of the literary hiccups. Additionally, I felt the effect of Hemingway's short, punchy sentences dampened by the sheer number of them (in my view, you can write 15 short sentences to describe a scene or three longer ones. The latter is my preferred style, the former reads (in this novel) like a man's boring diary entry)

Case in point: We walked to the door and I saw her go in and down the hall. I liked to watch her move. She went on down the hall. I went on home. It was a hot night and there was a good deal going on up in the mountains. I watched the flashes on San Gabriele. I stopped in front of the Villa Rossa. The shutters were up but it was still going on inside. Somebody was singing. I went on home.*** Read that in a staccato voice (We.walked.to.the.door....) and you'll understand what my brain went through for this entire novel.

I also struggled to care for these characters. In any way. The female character, Catherine, is perhaps the most one-dimensional character I've ever encountered in literature (and sheds much on how Hemingway must have viewed women). In the beginning of the book, she's almost crazy in her love over Lieutenant Henry (to the point where I thought, 'If she was around in today's society, she'd SO be *that* girl who calls her boyfriend on his cell phone 25 times a day...).

SPOILER ALERT:
Because of the way I felt about the characters, it made trudging through the first two-thirds of this book as much a laborious process for me as the birthing experience proves to be for Catherine. When the book draws to an end and Henry and Catherine await the arrival of their child, my heart opened a bit to the storyline but quickly grew cold again with the way the birth scene played out in the last 15 pages of the novel. Henry feels NOTHING for his newborn son (seriously, how cold do you have to be as a person?) and the death of Catherine in the final moments felt like Hemingway was on a deadline and decided to just end the book — right when, as a reader, you feel like you're finally curious enough about this couple and what they are going through to want to read about them.

Another meddlesome factor to this book that was small but grew in significance was the number of times these two refer to one another as "darling." As a pet name, sure, it may be romantic, but when uttered 500 times over the course of one book, it's maddening.
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Alex These are good thoughts.

I think you might misunderstand Catherine. To me, Henry is just as one-sided as Catherine, if not more so. They are both engaged in this elaborate, yet brute, game of love. Henry, almost inexplicably, simply "falls in love" with Catherine almost over night. (I don't think he ever actually loved her as the ending showed. He suddenly saw her as an escape from his lethargic, war-torn life.) Catherine, however, resists for awhile and seems more willing to actually deal with the horrors going on around her. Henry just goes on thinking everything will be fine, but on several occasions, Cat expresses doubt about the future, and her ability to be a mother. And then, to me, her eventual love is very genuine, and is not some mere escape like Henry's. And when Catherine acts like a caricature, I think Hemingway is portraying her that way to bolster the main point of his book: life is what it is, we can't escape it, and we all play certain parts in the drama.

I agree with you that some passages are annoying because of the short, choppy sentences. I just think the annoyance is an effect actually intended for various reasons. But yes, that doesn't make it more pleasant to read, however.


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