Welcome to this my blog - a record of my life with books and pictures



Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Business School Wives Book Club: Part Six (America in Europe)

Some Book Club meetings are easier to cater for than others. When we discussed Three Cups of Tea we did so over delicious Pakistani snacks, and for our Rebecca meeting, I baked a tray of scones. But our discussion of The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway was the winner in terms of feasting. We sat down to acres of tapas – with olives and cheeses and dates wrapped in ham and baked peppers and all sorts of lovely things. There was also plenty of red wine – although probably not quite as much as is consumed in the book.

The Sun Also Rises was Hemmingway’s first successful novel and it is short and sad. The narrator of the story is the hard drinking, eternally frustrated Jake Barnes and his subjects are his fellow American ex-patriots living in Paris in the 1920s. They seem to drift around the city in loose formation, drinking, talking about drinking, having romances and waiting for their money to show up from home. Jake homes in on a handful of characters in particular. He introduces us to Robert, an emotionally pathetic ex-pat novelist with a boxing background and an inferiority complex. Then there is Michael, a hard drinking, heavy spending guy who has to share his fiancĂ©e with every other man who comes along. The jewel of the novel is Brett, a woman of beauty, daring and staggering abandon, who everyone else is in love with. Most of all, Jake homes in on his own character; his visceral but unfulfillable love for Brett; his status as a member of a lost generation; his anti-Semitism; his need to be at the centre of things. This rag-tag band of souls leaves their makeshift homes in Paris and head south for Spain to see the fiesta. There, before the spectacle of the bullfight, Brett’s sensuous impulses and the groups’ collective tolerance will be tested to their limits.

Hemmingway’s writing is often imitated but seldom well. At its best it is an adjective-free series of clipped, masculine statements that builds up an emotionally convincing narrative – made clearer for all the things left unsaid. If you are a reader who likes flowers with your prose, this may not be for you. It is minimalist and unfussy. Because the language is cut down the symbols in the story become supremely important.

Jake and Brett make the central symbol. She is a woman who is literally addicted to sex. Hemmingway does not tell us why, he leaves us to wonder – but what ever the reason, if a man shows the least interest in her (and they usually do), then there is no stopping Brett. The man who loves her most however is Jake and he is impotent and can never give her what she wants. Jake is one of that small band of much pitied soldiers who were injured in World War 1 and never made love again. Together, Jake and Brett symbolise the so-called “lost generation” that Hemmingway was a part of. These were the people who lived most of their adulthood in the shadow of the First World War – and for whom there was no chance of innocence. Although both Jake and Brett want happiness, they are irreconcilable. Their love, which might have worked out in another corner of history is drained of joy and morality.

I loved it. I thought it was a moving and authentic read with real people and real disasters. I don’t know that I cared too much for the characters. I liked the self-knowing realism of Jake, but his pals were pretty charmless. Brett was the kind of character who was interesting because of the way she lived rather than anything she said. In fact, her conversation in the novel was almost entirely dominated by references to being “tight”. The Sun Also Rises is a novel that does a good job of dividing people. There are excellent and various bloggy opinions available from Mrs B at The Literary Stew, Gary at How Books Got Their Titles, Clover at Fluttering Butterflies, ANZ Litlovers Litblog, Steven Riddle at Flos Carmeli, Cody at Swann’s Thoughts, Linda at The Fill in the Gaps: 100 Project, For Comrades and Lovers and Ed Gorman.

I have found a picture of Hemmingway and since I learned from Gary at How Books Got Their Titles that Brett Ashley was modelled on Lady Duff Twysden I have also included a picture of her sitting alongside Hemmingway and friends in Paris. There are also a couple of shots of the 1957 film with Ava Gardner, hmmm; I feel a Book Club movie night coming on.

39 comments:

  1. Thanks for the link. I loved this book! It has so much atmosphere and I loved Jake...what a guy! Great review.

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  2. What an interesting sounding book. And I'm impressed by the way your group themes its food and books - that must be fun to think about!

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  3. Great post. I definitely like the sound of your book club!

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  4. Great review and love the pics!-question is this the novel where Hemingway does a thinly disguised very negative portrayal of Ford Madox Ford?

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  6. I do like 'flowers with my prose' so have never been tempted by Hemingway, but this review makes the book sound very emotional and heartrending.

    I also love the idea of book-themed feasts!

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  7. I love it when we combine food with a book. Sometimes the food is better than our discussion. Nice post about the book, too.

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  8. I have not read Hemingway since high-school, and I have not ever read this book. I do remember that his writing is unfussy and very masculine though, and wonder what I would make of it all these years later. I also think that your book club meetings sound wonderful, what with all the neat snacks!! I am going to have to give Hemingway another try, and maybe snack on a tapa or two when I do! Great review, Hannah!

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  9. I have a hard time with Hemingway but I appreciate this post. I spent some time in the Florida Keys and he lived there for a while and that helped me like him a little more. I don't know, something about his writing is hard for me to get around. I love Ava Gardner though so I'd watch that movie! Fascinating post as always!

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  10. I wish I was in your book club! I've read a lot of Hemingway and have felt divided on his work. His style isn't my favorite, but I've loved some of his short stories and A Moveable Feast. Since you liked this one, I think you'd enjoy Feast. It's the most closely related of his work, but it's nonfiction. Thanks for including the pics with this post, wonderful.

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  11. Great post -- I hate to admit I haven't read any Hemingway! Do they take away my book blog with that kind of admission?

    Sometimes I think the food at book club is more important than the discussion!

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  12. A book club movie night would be perfect! We did that last year with Rebecca and it was one of our most successful meetings ever. Of course, great food helps, too... but your group certainly has that covered!

    My next Hemingway will be A Moveable Feast (have been trying to get to that since April), but I'm going to add The Sun Also Rises to my list, too.

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  13. Hemingway isn't for me - as a bloke or as a writer - but I'm glad this was such a good read for you! If you do see the film I'd be interested to hear what you think.

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  14. This is a great post, Hannah. I loved this book best of all his books. Wonderful!

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  15. I'm a Hemmingway fan. Haven't read The Sun Also Rises for 25 years..hmm, maybe it's time for a reread!

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  16. Hannah-I'd be very curious to hear what you think about Lucien Freud. I always find him enigmatic. Is he about more than the corporeality of man? What does he find so fascinating in flesh?
    Try to avoid the room with the woman spinning a hula hoop of barbed wire around her middle. I have seen it twice now and that is two times more than I needed.

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  17. I've never been a fan of Hemingway, but I haven't read anything by him since I was 14, which was probably too young and age to appreciate him. I think the food would entice me though! Maybe for my next book club!

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  18. Hi Hannah, many thanks for becoming a follower of Pen and Paper. Nice to meet you, you have a great blog and all done on my favourite colour, yellow.

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  19. This is my favorite Hemingway novel and I am glad you enjoyed it so much. It sounds like your book club made the most of the theme!

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  20. Thank you for another interesting post. I have not read this Hemmingway, but feel that I shall in the near future.

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  21. My daughter-in-law hosted her book group last night with a literary food theme. Apparently everyone contributed something foodie mentioned in a book they have enjoyed.
    I've enjoyed reading your recent posts, especially about the lifestyle of writers and artists and their creative output.

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  22. I'm planning to read this this year. I was thinking it would be something of a chore but it sounds like I'm going to like it very much.

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  23. I love Hemmingway and have this one on my tbr list. Reading your review made me actually miss his writing so I'm moving this one up to read very soon. Thanks and have a great weekend,
    Dianne

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  24. Lovely review as usual Hannah! I haven't read this one but it is on my list. I have Hemingway's short stories sitting on my shelf but I need to get a copy soon :)

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  25. I've never heard of this book but it sounds great. I have always wanted to read Hemmingway but never got around to it. I have a copy of Across the River and Into the Trees which I picked up at a charity shop.

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  26. I've always wondered what this book was about, so it was very informative reading your review. I'm pretty sure I have a copy of it on my shelf (my husband's from college). I do like Hemingway's writing and how he is economical with his words.

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  27. Ive never read Hemmingway before, Ive no idea why as I dont like flowery lanuage and as some of his books are quite short it wont take me long to read one. I love the idea of eating scones while discussing Rebecca though, I think I craved them the whole time I was reading it.

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  28. I've read Hemmingway before, but not this book. I think I need to give it a try.

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  31. First--love the food/book connection. Perfect.

    >If you are a reader who likes flowers with your prose, this may not be for you. It is minimalist and unfussy. Because the language is cut down the symbols in the story become supremely important.

    I really liked your description of Hemingway's style. I do like Hemingway but haven't read anything by him in so long and I never did read this one.

    Excellent review--awesome pictures--well done!

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  32. You've persuaded me to revisit Hemingway. What a great post.

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  33. Your sum-up of the book is both brief and spot-on. Thank you for quickly letting me relive what I loved most about the book, and thanks for the link.

    -Paul

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  36. This was an excellent review. You summed up Hemingway's style of writing very succinctly here:

    "At its best it is an adjective-free
    series of clipped, masculine statements
    that builds up an emotionally convincing narrative – made clearer for all the things left unsaid. If you are a reader who likes flowers with your prose, this may not be for you."

    I am afraid that the only Hemingway book that I've liked is 'A Moveable Feast'. I think that I like flowers with my prose!

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  37. It includes the record of my life with various books and picture. This is the part of business school.

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