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Book Review: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (3/5)

12 Mar

I started this book Christmas day so it feels good to finally say I’m done with it! I wanted to read this title after reading The Paris Wife which talks about Hemingway’s life living in Paris and visiting Spain like Jake from this book. It had been on my list and when I asked my husband to pick an audiobook for our drive to Cincinnati he choose this one! Little did we know we’d have so much to talk about in the car that we’d get through very little of it. Oh well, it made our weekend errands more fun for the last two months!

Cover Image via Goodreads

Cover Image via Goodreads

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Summary from Goodreads:

A poignant look at the disillusionment and angst of the post-World War I generation, the novel introduces two of Hemingway’s most unforgettable characters: Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley. The story follows the flamboyant Brett and the hapless Jake as they journey from the wild nightlife of 1920s Paris to the brutal bullfighting rings of Spain with a motley group of expatriates. It is an age of moral bankruptcy, spiritual dissolution, unrealized love, and vanishing illusions.

I love Hemingway. I love his sparse prose and characters you love to hate. Though I’m never quite sure what he’s trying to say. Brett was wonderfully terrible and I wanted to party with Bill. But what’s my takeaway? I know I could Google questions about this book and get pages and pages of questions that high school English teachers have been asking for decades. But did Hemingway have any of that in mind when he wrote this book? If what I read in The Paris Wife is true, the book is in memory of his extra-marital love with a woman much like Brett meaning he is much like Jake. So Hemingway was in love with a terrible woman? And he saw himself as the attractive bachelor? Perhaps.

Hemingway’s characters are the best kind of terrible people. They’re awful and they don’t seem to know how bad they are and don’t want to recognize it when they figure it out. Brett knows she’s no good with men yet continues to parade around with them. Jake knows he’s pining after something he’ll never have and continues to do it. Cohn knows he’s ruining everyone’s vacation and continues to do it. At least Bill was a decent guy.

I adored Bill. No matter what happened, Bill was always happy and couldn’t be brought down. He would drink with Jake and Mike and even if Cohn ruined everything, he was the one to help revive the night. He made their lives a party in spite of setbacks and kept the tone of the book up when the relationship drama should have brought it down.

I think I related to all the characters at different times. I related to Brett’s unwillingness to commit when I thought about all the jobs I’ve held before my current one. I related to Jake pining after something he couldn’t have because I’d been after my husband for a long time before we finally started dating. I related to Bill wanting to keep the party alive because I like to keep things lighthearted after something serious. I related to Cohn because I’ve been the one to ruin things before. We’re all like Hemingway’s characters some times. Just hopefully not all the time.

I liked the descriptions of the bullfights and runs in Pamplona. I’ve been to Spain, though not Pamplona, and see a bullfight and it took me right back to that day. Let me see if I can find a picture.



Bam, a Sam original. I won a photo contest with that picture. Hemingway’s descriptions of the crowd and the way the bullfighter faced the bull reminded me of that day. I thought he did a great job with the imagery and setting the scene.

I thought the talk about travel and drinking dragged a bit. There was always a new kind of wine to try and some train or car had to be traveled in to get to this person or that person who was drinking beer. It got a little old to me rather quickly. I understand that these things might be taken for granted in modern times when travel is such an easy thing and when alcohol is available (this was written during Prohibition) but as a modern reader, it was something I noticed.

My husband was very caught up in the dialogue. There were many times when a speaker (it normally seemed to be Bill) would repeat himself several times before the other characters would react to what he said or answer his question. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to think it’s a reference to how we never really listen to each other or if it’s just Hemingway.

The audio we listened to was narrated by William Hurt. I thought he did a great job of the voices. Hemingway gives away very little about the way something is spoken and inflection but with Hurt’s inflection, it seemed to roll smoothly. I also loved his Brett voice and his Scottish accent for Mike was great. It was always easy to know who was talking and I was engaged throughout.


Ernest Hemingway Image via the Nobel Prize website

I think this story is about illusions. We can imagine and project that we’re happy or settled when it’s all a show. Brett did that all the time. Mike and Cohn as well. Jake never seemed happy with what he had but never dissatisfied. He always found something to enjoy, be it fishing or bullfighting, and let that keep his spirits up. But that’s always temporary. He can’t always be on holiday in Spain. Some day, he was going to have to get back to Paris and work or back to America and face the reasons he left. I think the Lost Generation were a very sad group of people, running away from their real problems and this story reflects that.

Writer’s Takeaway: We know Hemingway as a bare-bones writer. He would never use two words where one would suffice. Yet there’s a lot of description in this book. We have settings and details about what people are doing that might not add to the plot but make the story richer. Having a sparse style doesn’t mean cutting out living details and I think Hemingway is a good reminder of that.

Enjoyable but not very moving. Three out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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