This book will haunt me till my dying day.
Me and The Sun Also Rises have a torrid history. This marks the fourth time I have read this work, and the first time I have read it of my own volition. Here is a recap:
It was assigned to me in a university travel writing class.
It was assigned to me in a university class on Hemingway.
It was chosen by a book club I was a part of.
And lastly, as a COVID panic I ended up assigning this again to some of my students in 2021, and out of fairness (and the fact that nearly a decade had passed since my last reading) I decided to read it again. I don’t imagine this book would hold to this level of rereading, but I don’t imagine many books would either.
The Sun Also Rises is Hemingway’s look at a certain kind of American expat living in the post war Europe. They are living a life of excess and enjoyment as a reaction to the nihilism they found during the war. The story focus on a revolving door relationship between several of the main characters, and the consequences of their life style which is in turn a consequence of the war they lived through.
If you repeat a word enough it starts to distort in your head. The phenomenon is called semantic satiation. I think I am experiencing something similar here. There was a very real struggle to read what was going on on the actual page versus my just seeing where the book was leading to. It ultimately made for a pretty poor reading experience, and it made me think less of the work and of the author. There really isn’t much to the story: there are a bunch of characters acting like fools, and your not liking them for it is exactly the point. But perhaps a better book would buttress this with really good writing. But this is Hemingway, and we don’t really get that. We get just enough to keep up going.
A lot is made of the ending of this book. I have no idea why. I guess it was pretty revolutionary in the writer’s time, but now it feels pretty light weight. Nor does Hemingway even have the actual courage to come out and say it. It’s just implied. That alone makes the whole thing feel very weak, but I think the truth of the matter is that it is also based on a pretty poor understanding of nihilism. I can see where the whole “We believe in nothing, Lebowski” thing that seems so ever present.
The short of this book is ‘a bunch of people respond poorly to life tragedy.’ I think we can do without.
I read this novel out of obligation for my job. You are going to get a lot of these in the coming months, so be warned. Reading by obligation is not anyone’s idea of fun, so that may affect the quality of these posts.