Author: Ernest Hemingway
“Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton. Do not think I am very much impressed by that as a boxing title, but it meant a lot to Cohn.”
Although Ernest Hemingway’s first novella, The Torrents of Spring, was released earlier in 1926, it was not until later in the same year that he would publish his first serious novel and begin to stake his claim as one of the most respected authors of the 20th century. The Sun Also Rises, which was released first in America and then a year later in Britain under the name “Fiesta”, has been argued to be one of Hemingway’s best and most important books. It came into my hands as a part of the large collection I received for my birthday and Christmas, although it was a bit of a surprise to receive as my other half makes no effort to hide her dislike of the works of the author concerned. It’s not a particularly long book, and so it took me about 4 days to read.
The novel follows protagonist Jake Barnes, an American expatriate author living in Paris, as he journeys with some acquaintances to Pamplona for the annual Festival of San Fermín, famous for the “running of the bulls” and subsequent bullfights. Jake is in love with English aristocratic divorcee Lady Brett Ashley but, although she loves him too, is rendered impotent by a war wound and thus unable to fulfil her needs. Following some jaunts around the Paris nightlife, Jake heads to Spain with drunkard American friend Bill and generally-disliked Robert Cohn for some trout fishing; they are at length joined by Brett, with whom Cohn recently had a brief affair (and remains in love), and her latest fiancé Mike, who deals with his girlfriend’s discretions by drinking himself into oblivion. Mike is by no means the only drinker of the group, as they each consume gallons of wine daily while attending the (sort of) titular festival. Jake, who attends the festival regularly and is popular around the town, is embarrassed by the actions of his friends (and himself), not least Brett’s illicit relationship with a promising matador. The group breaks up as the fiesta comes to a close, and everyone heads their separate ways until reliable Jake is once again called to the aid of the woman he loves but can never have for his own.
As my first Hemingway novel, I’ve seen enough I like to give him more of my time. I found it relatively easy to read, and quite funny in parts (something I value highly in a book). The writing style is a little unusual, characterised by understatement, and as usual it took me a little while to adapt but once I got going it was quite refreshing. Some of the attitudes seem a little outdated, such as the glorification of the bullfight and the blatant (although not severe) anti-Semitism towards the Jewish Cohn, but this can’t really be taken as much of a criticism given the time in which it was written. It’s often called one of the first modernist novels, and as an early example I thought it was good. Not spectacular, but good.
My Rating: 7/10