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The Sun Also Rises
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March 2019: Debut > The Sun also Rises by Ernest Hemingway - 5 stars - and no one is more shocked at that than me!

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Theresa | 7431 comments The end of the world is nigh. I enjoyed just about every second of reading this --and it's Hemingway! I am famous for my dislike of his work -- all dating from what I had to read in high school and college. Well, there was one exception - I am very fond of A Movable Feast but it's about Paris, hardly his usual, and not surprising since I'm equally famous as a francophile with a deep love of Paris. Which comes into play here too. The initial third or so of the book is set in Paris, in and out of the various cafes frequented by Hemingway and his circle between the wars. Those cafes (the Dome, La Rotonde, Select, Cafe du Lilas) all still exist, existed in 1976 when I was there as a student and hung out there absorbing whatever vibes we could left by the famous writers who frequented them. It is 'my' Paris. I was hooked, and stayed caught through travel to Spain, fishing interlude, and the vivid descriptions of Fiesta in Pamplona.

What's the novel about? Superficially, it's not about much. A group of writers and friends between WWI and WWII, the infamous Lost Generation, spend time drinking, eating, and bed-hopping in Paris, move it all down to Spain for the bullfights, but first some go trout fishing in Basque Country, ultimately all end up in Pamplona for the Fiesta de San Fermin, what we know as the annual running of the bulls and bullfights. It's about a man who is in love with a woman who loves him, but his impotency forms an insurmountable barrier, and as a result their relationship is warped, hurtful, constant. It is all told from the first person perspective of Jake, a writer with a war injury that renders him impotent, who tells the story in a spare journalistic recitation of events and actions without color or judgment or analysis. This is the essence of Hemingway's modernist writing style. The relationships and events told in this spare manner end up incredibly revealing and vivid so that by the end, you have seen all the complicated relationships, careless cruelties, lack of direction - or maybe it's lack of meaning, illusions, and deep emotions in the lives of Jake, Brett (the main female character), Mike, Bill, Cohn and others. The descriptions of the bullfights - how the bull is teased and ultimately killed - mirrors the treatment of Cohn by the others, in fact. Jake et al. are matadors, and those not of the circle, like Cohn, are the bulls played to the death.

Much is written about the various themes covered by this novel, about the portrayal of the Lost Generation, how this established a new writing style for the novel, and many now consider this to be Hemingway's masterpiece. It may be and it certainly is about the Lost Generation, but I find it timeless, in fact, which I in large part attribute to the spare journalistic style of writing. The events described, the inter-relationships, could easily be some rock band and its groupies, or Paris Hilton and her entourage, the Kardashians. This book was written and published 93 years ago, yet you recognize Paris, the bullfights, Spain, and most of all the characters and their relationships. I think that does indeed make this a masterpiece.

I absolutely adore the final sentences as they encapsulate the central relationship between promiscuous Brett and impotent Jake:

"Oh, Jake," Brett said, "we could have had such damned good time together."
Ahead was a mounted policeman in khaki directing traffic. He raised his baton. The car slowed suddenly pressing Brett against me.
"Yes," I said. "Isn't it pretty to think so?"


It was while reading The Paris Wife that I decided I had to bite the bullet and read The Sun Also Rises because in The Paris Wife you meet all the real people and learn of the real events that inspired Hemingway, upon which the entire story is based (although we all know Hemingway, for whom Jake is an alterego, was not impotent!). I believe that the real Lady Duff, who in the novel is Brett, Lady Ashley, rather famously is credited with saying that it should be considered non-fiction not fiction given the word-for-word accuracy of the writing.

I doubt I will be rushing out to read any more Hemingway, but I am very glad I read this and was forced to eat my words about what a bad writer he was.

A comment on the edition I read. I bought a used hardcover, super cheap, and it turned out to be the 1954 edition published by Scribner after the renewal of copyright by Ernest Hemingway (original copyright is listed as 1926 by Charles Scribner's Sons). I'm very curious over the copyright renewal thing - it's unusual? Think I might try some research on it.


message 2: by Anita (new)

Anita Pomerantz | 6546 comments Great review! I will admit that I read this so long ago, in high school I believe. But to this day, I have a fond, positive recollection of the book. I adored The Paris Wife, but now I wish I read the two books in juxtaposition as you did.


message 3: by Nikki (new) - added it

Nikki | 661 comments I'm intrigued! The only thing I've read of his was For Whom the Bell Tolls, which wasn't to my taste at all, but your description is very persuasive and I agree that those last few lines are great - I may have to give him another chance.


Booknblues | 6204 comments If you didn't love For Whom the Bell Tolls, I'm not sure you would like this.

I think Hemingway was a brilliant writer who changed writing for the better. He could make things so concise and didn't believe in flowery prose and thus shifted the way novels were written.

He loved women and romanticized them and that interfered with his relationships. He chose strong women, but he never understood them well enough to actually write their characters well and the dialogue between them is awful. Having read a few books about Hemingway, I suspect that the dialogue is reflective of his reality.


Theresa | 7431 comments I read Zadie Smith for the first time not so long ago, Swing Time to be exact. I was disgruntled after reading it, in part due to the sense of seeing all that unfolded through glass, from a distance, as if the protagonist is never engaged. Why do I mention that here? Because after reading The Sun Also Rises, I actually think that Smith is, perhaps, a 21st Century proponent of Hemingway's modernist style, his Iceberg Theory.


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