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Thursday, March 10, 2005

The Casual Critic — Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises

Certainly I wouldn’t pretend even for a minute to be able to offer any sort of new insight into Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. However, this is exactly the type of book I thought of when I created The Casual Critic.

Though I started hearing folks question Hemingway’s longevity in being considered a literary great almost 10 years ago, he’s still a writer that you’re simply not allowed to dismiss without most people thinking you’re an ass. I’m not suggesting Hemingway should be dismissed. Instead I’m more interested in the idea of an author reaching the status that no longer allows him to be questioned without genuflecting.

I enjoyed re-reading The Sun Also Rises, partly because it's one of the first times I've re-read a book from college. I wasn't concerned with the possible literary significance of every place I hadn't heard of or phrase in French or Spanish that I didn't know and would need to understand for a test that held the fate of my grade—and thus life itself—in the balance. (I did quite well in college, so no, it's not that I just didn't get such things.) I could just read the damn book.

The writing was certainly classic Hemingway — totally unadorned—which I basically enjoy. There were some passages that don't add much to the novel, which reminded me of my feeling as I read The Old Man and the Sea — if not written by Hemingway, and instead an unknown, it would had been considered poor writing. Luckily, unlike The Old Man and the Sea, these characters gradually took on a realness that kept you reading. The love story, if you can call it that, between Brett Ashley, the only woman among the main characters, and three of the main male characters took a little too long to emerge as the main thread of the story. I'd say "plot," but that just doesn't seem to fit. These characters just sort of mosey through a week of vacation at the Spanish fiesta that includes the historic running of the bulls. This is about the point in a college essay I'd launch into a soliloquy about how the running of the bulls and the bullfights were a metaphor for those in love with Brett. They were, and it works ok, but you have to want it and like a lot of Hemingway, it's never explored too much.

The Ecclesiastes quote found (at least in my edition) prior to the novel speaks to the idea that the Earth goes 'round regardless of what we mere mortals do. Setting the tone for reading the book, it suggests that the story may very well be meant as a critique on what people give importance to. The lack of a conclusion, or at least the lack of change in any of the characters, supports this.

Overall, even if it wasn't a classic, The Sun Also Rises is worth reading.

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