This, friends, was the single book that so fatefully launched Ernest Hemingway's amazing and long-lived literary career. As such it is as close to being a legendary book as they come, yet some seventy five years after its initial publication, it still offers a story that is also surprisingly fresh, personal, and memorable. For all of his obvious excesses, Hemingway was an artist compelled to delve deliberately into painful truths, and he attempted to do so with a style of writing that cut away all of the frills and artifice, so that at it s heart this novel is meant as a exploration into what it means to be adult and alive. Thus we are introduced to Jake Barnes, a veteran of World War One, now forced by his wounds to live as a man without the ability to act like one, forced by impotence to forgo all of life's usual intimacies, and all of its associated life connections for which he so yearns. At the same time, Jake attempts to live a life of meaning and purpose, one crammed full with activity, work, and friendships. Yet it is within this network of friendships and connections that he must confront his painful circumstances.
Enter his true love, the feckless Lady Ashley, and indeed the plot thickens, for we soon see how Jake's physical affliction has painfully affected several others. Ashley loves him, but needs a virile man who can give her the physical love she needs. While Ashley is a woman of uncommon beauty, she is also virtuous enough in her won way to want the one man she truly loves to be her lover. Like all of us, she wants most that which she can never have, and so she returns to the source of her own dilemma time after time to Jake, her emotional match, the one man who cannot give her the mature emotional love she craves. So they are condemned to circle around each other, even while some of their friends and other members of the in-crowd interfere, compete, and seek Ashley's affections around the edges of the continuing affair.
What we are left with is a modern tragedy, one in which the characters must somehow resolve the irresolvable.
Yet for all this emotional turmoil and existential `sturm-und-drang' of the so-called "lost generation", people drowning in the moral anomie and circumstantial wasteland created in the gutters of their own endless wants and needs, it is most often Hemingway's imaginative and spare use of the language itself that wins the reader over. Unlike his predecessors, he sought a lean narrative style that cut away at all the flowery description and endless adjectives. In the process of parsing away the excesses, Hemingway created a clear, simple and quite declarative prose style that was truly both modern and revolutionary. What one encounters as a result is a story seemingly stripped to its barest essentials, superficially more like the newspaper man's pantheon of who, what, where, when, and why, and yet somehow transformed into a much more accurate and imaginative effort, one leaving the reader with a much more artful account of what is going on. One reads Hemingway quickly, at least at first, when one learns to slow down and drink in every word and every detail as it is related. For me and for millions of others, the true genius of Hemingway is to be found in his artful use of language. This book was Hemingway's first truly successful foray into the world of letters, and the result changed the face of modern fiction. Enjoy!
on February 26, 2002
The Sun Also Rises is one of the few works of literature that shook me to the core, along with Remarque's Three Comrades, Gorky's autobiography, and Chekhov's The Lady With The Dog. I read a page and I was hooked. Bam, just like that. I read the thing in a day. In several hours, actually. And then I went and devoured the rest of the man's literary oeuvre. It's just that great. All the greater because when you really look at it, there's no dramatic action going on here - just some people talking, then going to Spain to see the bullfights. But don't let that fool you - boring this book ain't.
Jake Barnes, like most of the characters, is a veteran of World War I. A very unfortunate wound left physical love a complete impossibility for him, and thus he is left gnashing his teeth watching the woman he loves run around with all sorts of men. The Jewish Robert Cohn, who learned boxing in college in order to conquer his feelings of inferiority, happens to become smitten with her as well. Somehow, they and some of their friends and acquaintances end up going to Spain to experience the Fiesta, and while their experience starts the same giddy, frenzied, hedonistic way as for most people, it ends quite differently, when the book's darker undercurrents come to light. Insert scenes of cafe life, fishing, reminiscences, conversations with friends, watching the bullfights, some absolutely brutal humor, and lots and lots of liquor, and you've got yourself Hemingway's first masterpiece. Every element of every great Hemingway book can be seen here - plenty of vivid descriptions; moments of strange, elegiac melancholy; the human spirit fighting against the world; loneliness, isolation, and endurance. They're all here.
For some reason, this book seems to draw accusations of anti-Semitism. And all I've to say on that topic is: What? Anti-Semitism? Here? Please, what is this you speak of? Sure, Cohn's a Jew. And sure, the characters aren't too fond of him. And yet, Hemingway presents him in a very, very sympathetic light. Sure, we're rooting for Jake Barnes because he's smarmy and witty and cool, but when we see Cohn break down in tears in his hotel room because ..., he was naive enough to _believe_ Brett loved him, how can you possibly say Hemingway had any anti-Semitic sentiments on his mind? No, no, no, and a thousand times no. This is not a book about Jews, or Americans, or Britishers. This is a book about _people_, about young people searching for substance in a world that has none, trying to build up some sort of semblance of a normal life after having been through war. This is a book about people who feel life has passed them all by, and who have nothing to really look forward to. This book is filled with the genuine bitter loneliness of people who see nothing ahead of them. The sense of hopeless longing for something better permeates every page.
The Sun Also Rises is the sound of people trying to find a purpose for themselves in an increasingly shallow world. And lest that not convince you to read it, it happens to rock .... Rarely have I read more bitingly acerbic insults and comebacks, wry and cynical remarks, and deadly accurate observations. Actually, rarely have I ever felt so drawn in to the world of a book as much as here. I identified with Jake Barnes and Bill Gorton and that Englishman they met while fishing and with the boozing Mike and with Cohn. I understood their copious drinking and verbal barb-flinging because I was struck by the moments of absolutely believable fragile vulnerability that lay underneath the surface. The subtle gestures, the shifts in tone, the tough, terse prose all added to the various effects when necessary. When I was done, the book left an indelible stamp on my mind. And what higher recommendation could anyone possibly give a book than that?
on March 19, 2007
I have mixed feelings about this novel. On one level I appreciate it for the fine literary work that it is. In particular, I admire Hemmingway's use of symbolism throughout the novel. But at the same time, this isn't a novel I enjoyed reading. The novel features a cast of characters that are not especially likable and the first third of the novel moves a little too slowly (Jake and his friends lead aimless lives -and the first part of the novel is pretty aimless).
Jake and his fellow expatriates spend the entire novel getting drunk, being drunk, or recovering from having been drunk (or `tight' as they like to say). They pass their days eating, drinking and being as insensitive as possible to one another. It would be easy to dismiss these characters as unpleasant, and therefore uninteresting, but in the context of the years following WWI, I found myself feeling some sympathy for them.
Simply put, they're damaged goods. Jake, Mike, and Bill all fought in WWI(Jake becoming less of a man as a result) and were forever affected by it. They are now lost, drowning their empty aimless lives in alcohol.
Arguably, the most interesting character in the novel is Lady Ashley (Brett) who is a toxic influence on nearly every man she encounters. Jake, Mike, and Cohn are all in love with her to varying degrees and pay an emotional price as a result. Brett's self centered behaviour complicates the lives of the men who are enamored by her. Jake, who is impotent because of the war, demonstrates his love for Brett by helping her pursue men and then picking up the pieces when the affair ends badly.
There is no happiness for the lost generation in The Sun Also Rises and considerable irony in the novel's final sentence. I found this to be an interesting and insightful novel but I can't say I really `enjoyed' reading it. As a literary work this novel warrants 4 stars. As entertainment: 2 stars. Overall: 3 stars.
Why would anyone want to read a novel about unending drunken revels by emotional cripples who treat each other badly, never-ending love conflicts, getting excited by mayhem at the running of the bulls and during bull fights in Pamplona, and wasted lives? That's the question posed by this book.
The book will not draw too many readers for the subject matter. Why then does the book attract? Part of the appeal has to be the same reason that many people like horror films -- the relief you feel when you realize that your own life does not encounter such dangers can be profound.
Another reason to read this book is to understand the disillusionment of the American expatriates in Europe after World War I. The book is a period piece in this sense. Clearly, Hemingway is Jake and the book is undoubtedly very autobiographical. All first novels have that quality to some degree. Imagining how the author of The Old Man and the Sea started out as Jake was very interesting to me.
To me, however, the primary reason for reading this book is to encounter the remarkable structure that Hemingway built in his plot. He has created several different lenses through which we can explore the role of conflict and separation in our lives. Each lens turns out to be looking at the same object, and it is only by slowly focusing each of the lenses that we are able to see that object more clearly.
The central figure in the book is Brett, Lady Ashley, who enchants almost every man she meets, and who disengages from intimate relations with each one after permanently entangling him emotionally. That leaves a string of wounded suitors in her wake, including Jake. Things get tough when several of them join her and her fiance in Pamplona for the running of the bulls. The symmetry in the book becomes more obvious during a fishing trip that Jake takes without Brett. The fish are lured by artificial flies more successfully than with real worms. Brett's exotic appeal draws men in like flies, much more than the attractions of women who want to make an emotional commitment.
The symmetry becomes masterful when we reach the bull fights. Brett and the matador are inevitably attracted, for they are the same. They both play with their opponents (men and bulls) by flirting and using their capes, weaken the opponents in the engagement, and bring the opponents down (through sexual entrancement and slaughter). Hemingway makes this abundantly clear by repeatedly describing the bull's death as when the matador and the bull become one. One pet name for Brett is Circe, to help complete the picture.
The closer the matador comes to the bull's horns (or Brett to making a commitment), the better the sport for the spectators and the greater the self-esteem for the matador (and Brett).
I do not recall a novel that does such an excellent job of using multiple story lines to reinforce the book's main point, in this case that alienation transcends even closeness. Much as you will dislike some of the characters, the unnecessary racial and ethnic slurs, the savageness, and the emotional scenes, you will probably find the characters to ring true. You will also admire the misguided optimism and honest commitment of Jake as he fulfills his love for Brett by procuring men for her and then rescuing her when the next engagement is all over. Jake's love is that noble sacrifice that we all admire in lovers.
And that's the beautiful part of the book -- you will find nobility amid the ugliness. The contrast makes the nobility more beautiful.
When you are done reading the book, examine your own life and see where you draw back from closeness. Then, ask yourself why you do, and what it costs you and others. Next, consider what closeness can bring from continuing relationships.
Find beauty wherever you look!
on August 22, 2005
In a course I took on the American literature of the 1920s, the professor began his discussion of "The Sun also Rises" by calling our attention to a minor, sidebar scene: Jake and Georgette promenade in in Paris in the early evening past the window of the Herald Tribune offices. Jake explains to Georgette that the clocks displayed in the window show the hour in each of the four time zones across America. Georgette, who is a prostitute from Belgium, looks at the clocks in the window and says: "Don't kid me."
It is an odd little scene, and on the face of it doesn't make sense. But it is the key to the book. The novel is about time and death. For Georgette and Jake, who are survivors of the 1914-18 war, time doesn't exist in the traditional sense. For the survivors of the war, as for the dead, time is understood to be over.
In the 19th century, most Americans considered the passage of time to be a metronome of human progress. The equation of time with progress was a form of boosterism, born from the great success of the industrial revolution and the Westward expansion of the country. As time went on, things got bigger, better, faster, richer and further West. Time and progress were synonymous.
For the war generation, this naively optimistic view of time and industrial progress ended abruptly and in it ended in violence. It seemed that industrial progress had paid itself off in the industrialization of death - the machine gun, the French 75s, the recoilless artillery of Krupp.
The Great War was not a gallant, romantic, sabers on horseback conflict like that depicted in late 19th century newspaper accounts of the Spanish American war. The Great War of 1914-18 came to be seen, from the point of view of writers in the 1920s, as an unfair fight between men and (indifferent, impersonal, efficient) killing machines. A highly mechanized slaughterhouse.
Hemingway's generation, the so-called "lost generation," was lost in fact. A generation died in the war. The statistics of mortality were for those days stunning and incredible.
The novel is set in Paris around 1924, six years after the armistice. For the characters who were soldiers or survivors like Jake and Georgette, the daily circuit of the sun is a clock without purpose. Time is meaningless to them, just as it is to the dead. Hence, the sun "also" rises. It happens every morning of course but it is an event that occurs off to one side. It does not bring the hope of a new dawn, it does not mean "life goes on." In this novel, emphatically, life does not go on - there is no progress.
The war survivors' perception of time has shrunk to the present moment, in which they live. They elaborately avoid looking back - the war is just a huge hole in their personal stories -- and they cannot look forward, in the sense of "looking forward to" a superior future. For the survivors of the war, time has been turned around, flipped. Death has already happened - it is behind them. They do see the sun rise and set. But although time passes, it does not really go anywhere.
The passage of time into a brighter future, the progress of the sun through a succession of time zones across the US from east to west - all this strikes the Belgian survivor, Georgette, as utter nonsense. "Don't kid me." She says.
The war is the silent, unmentionable core of The Sun Also Rises, but the characters sometimes mention it inadvertently, in asides, and the reader gets tiny glimpses of what happened to these people the war, and what it did to them.
They never move forward. Writers start, or fail to start, books that they never finish. Love affairs lead to nothing, no marriages and no babies. There is a constant theme of drinking to coast through the present and to forget the past. Another diversion is an obsessive concentration on the sensual minutia of the present moment. Jake, a former combat pilot who has suffered some sort of wound to his groin, never detailed, is outside of time in the biological sense that he cannot reproduce. He has lost his "line", that is, the line of familial and biological continuity between past and future.
Conflicts in the book frequently arise as mutually amazed confrontations between Americans who skipped the war, and still have their 19th century sense of optimism and progress and honor intact -- and the "new" Americans like Hemingway - expatriates from American space but, more importantly, from the old American sense of time as something positive. In what has probably become the most famous line in the book Jakes says: "I mistrust all frank and simple people, especially when their stories hold together." As an American war veteran, Jake himself has a huge rip through his own story.
This year, The Sun Also Rises is 80 years old. Frozen in time, exactly as Hemingway intended. A difficult, complicated book that is, nevertheless, very easy to read.
on April 7, 2007
One of Hemingway's earlier works, THE SUN ALSO RISES remains one of his best. This roman à clef has it all -- drinking, misbehaving expats, more drinking, humor, sarcasm, irony, unrequited love, beautiful descriptions of Spain, did I mention drinking?, femme fatales, handsome bullfighters, fishing trips, a tad more drinking, manly-man themes, and outstanding dialogue.
About halfway through the book, a character named Bill Gorton about nails it when he tells the protagonist narrator, Jake Barnes, exactly what an expat is. It's meant to be funny, but in many ways it defines the book's sense of itself: "You're an expatriate. You've lost touch with the soil. You get precious. Fake European standards have ruined you. You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed by sex. You spend all your time talking, not working. You are an expatriate, see? You hang around cafés."
Luckily for us, Hemingway wrote and didn't just talk, but his novel is delightfully "talky" and the reader can't resist but listen in as a beautiful Brit named Brett makes verbal love with our protagonist Jake; or as Jake mercilessly excoriates the "phony" writer Robert Cohn (yes, Virginia, there IS a whiff of anti-Semitism in play here); or as Jake and Bill engage in witty and sometimes drunken badinage as they go on their memorable fishing trip in the Spanish hills. From the cafés of Paris to the running of the bulls in Pamplona, this book is a roaming holiday. And just when things get ugly and everyone is sick to death of each other, there's the memorable scene where Jake swims into the sea as if to cleanse himself of everything -- the drinking, the fighting, the frustrating impotence. The chapter is vintage Hemingway.
While I admire some of Hemingway's later work, I still feel THE SUN ALSO RISES, along with his early short stories (IN OUR TIME, THE NICK ADAMS STORIES), remains one of his strongest works. It is forever youthful both in its excesses and its beauties, yet it ages quite nicely, too. I heartily recommend it either as an introduction to Hemingway or as a reread. It will bear up in either case.
on December 11, 2006
I've a broad background when it comes to books, as a youth I mostly read Tolkien, Anne McCaffrey and other fantasy. Later I started reading science fiction, William Gibson, David Wingrove, Neal Stephenson. I also read physics books, philosophy, sports.
However, I have read very few "classics" in my lifetime. It's high time to rectify that, so I'm going to read all of Hemingway and many other classics over the next few years... wherever my path leads me.
This is the first Hemingway novel that I have read - or at least remember reading. I'm sure I read Old Man at some point during high school, but I have no recollection of it. I also wrote a biography report on Hemingway at some point during my high school years, but admit I don't remember anything much about that either. I have been to Key West, visited his home and pub.. so I feel that despite not being familiar with his work that I have some connection to the man.
When I first started the book - I was shocked by the writing style. I remember thinking - "wow, I could write this". It really sounded like it was written by an amateur. How could this man be considered one of the greats of writing? I never had to look anything up in the dictionary, most sentences were incredibly short, and everything seemed .. well... simple.
After my first reading, I thought the book was good, but not surprisingly so. The characters were interesting, but not particularly deep. I must be missing something. I must be out of my league here, even though the book didn't seem all that hard.
I also felt like it wasn't "right" for me to be reading Hemingway. I have no education or background in literature... I haven't studied the history of that time period. I have no great desire to become a Hemingway expert... some feelings of, "Well, I'd feel really strange discussing Hemingway with 'normal' people in American society." This was somewhat confirmed by my Mother who said.. "Wow.. Hemingway... DEEP! I could never read that."
So, I read it again about a year later. Then again about six months after that. After the third reading, the writing style seemed to disappear into the background, and it became almost soothing. I began to see more of the characters through the clarity of the writing, and they became much more real to me. The depth of the plot and symbolism started to come through, even though I'm not particularly searching for such things.
As I write this, I almost feel like I'm at the very beginning of understanding him. Almost like if you program in Lisp for awhile, you stop seeing the parentheses.
I think this book is now one that I'm going to pick up many more times in my lifetime because of the familiarity of it, and the feelings of "home" it brings to me. I don't know if that's what Hemingway intended, but I feel pretty close to Jake and the rest of the characters.
I suppose what I want others to get out of this review, is that if you're afraid to read Hemingway because it's going to be too hard, you're way off. There is something for everyone here. You might even find it *too* easy at the first reading and go back for more.. just like I did. I think as I go through Hemingway, it'll be like peeling away layers of an onion. Even if I never peel away more than one or two layers, it's still worth it.
I'd recommend this book to anyone... really, it's readable by anyone. You don't need an education in literature or to be particularly "sophisticated". It's an easy read, so if you don't like it.. not much wasted, but I really think you won't regret it, especially if you go back for a second or third helping.
on September 26, 1999
"The Sun also Rises" made a huge impression on me when I read it as a college student a number of years ago. It is true that one must look beyond the surface to get a clear understanding of any book by Hemingway. It is also true that the language that he used was not flowery, nor overly eloquent but the meaning revealed within the lines. It is also true that the characters are often expatriates; living on the fringe of society and hedonistic to the max. All of those elements are visible here, yet sometimes it might require a magnifying glass to see it. However, these are the qualities which make Ernest Hemingway, the seminal writer for a generation and certainly one of the best.
I propose one hint when reading "the Sun also Rises." Pay close attention to the relationship between Barnes and Robert Cohn. Barnes laothes Cohn for being everything that he is not. What drives him over the edge (in the inner sanctum of his own mind and demons) is the success Cohn has insofar as his relationship with Lady Brett. Barnes is impotent and this is a crushing blow to his manhood. The tragedy here is his inability to consummate a sexual relationship with her. It destroys him--yet he is still accepting of his predicament. This is what allows this character to maintain "grace under pressure"-- as Hemingway once coined the term or the ability to stand or hold ones ground when all odds are against you. Certainly this can be a tragic flaw for any of Hemingway's male characters--the total loss of his virility. Yet he stands his ground and never loses it. He just hates Cohn from a distance and rationalizes that he (Cohn) is one who cannot do anything just for the sake of doing it---whether it be drinking, winning the Princeton boxing title, or being in love with Brett. It is complicated but one can come away with these qualities after finishing the novel rather than while reading it.
I think his friend and sometimes rival, F. Scott Fitzgerald, summed him up best when he said of Hemingway: "He's the real thing."
on July 14, 2011
Let me be clear: "The Sun Also Rises" is a wonderful book. I just wanted to write a note warning readers about buying this particular edition (published by thINKing - advertised above) of the book.
Aside from the horrible graphics on the cover, inside there are numerous misspellings, typeset changes, odd paragraph indentations, and jumbled words. The whole package comes across as lazy, as if the printer cared so little for the text, they just threw together this edition.
I would recommend any edition of "The Sun Also Rises" over this one. It is not worth your money.
on September 9, 1999
Hemingway was a proponent of the "Iceberg" theory of writing: 90% of his themes are hidden beneath the surface of his books. He won't lay anything out for you in black and white -- you've got to be an active participant in the book. If that's not what you want from a book, stay away.
The Sun Also Rises is fantastic. It has Hemingway's trademark prose, a portrait of the lost generation, and most of all the saddest love story ever written. "There's no plot!" the detractors scream, but they're wrong. The plot isn't spelled out the way it is in a John Grisham novel, but it's definitely there if you pay attention.
Here's a hint for those who weren't trying very hard: this book is all about Brett Ashley and Jake. Throughout the book Hemingway shows Lady Brett following a very definite pattern. She meets a man, "falls in love" with him, sleeps with him, and dumps him. She isn't some cynical player when she does this -- she truly believes that she loves these men during her infatuations. But she requires physical proof of their love, i.e. sex, and once she has it, the infatuation dies. When the book starts we meet her latest victim, Cohn. As the book continues we see a similar relationship unfold with Romero.
But then there's Jake! She met Jake and fell in love with him, but a war injury makes him incapable of giving her the physical love she requires. As a result, poor pathetic Brett never fell out of love with Jake, and imagines him as the one man who could be the great love of her life. For the longest time Jake believes this as well.< He's seen what she did to Cohn, and he's had a ringside seat for her affair with Romero, and now he's finally realized the truth about her. When she fantasizes about the great life they could have had together, he knows it's just wishful thinking. If they could have made love, she would have dumped him just like all the others.
At it's heart, The Sun Also Rises is a book about a man falling out of love.
Hemingway's prose is a matter of opinion. Some people love his sparse verbage, others don't. If you don't care for it, try Fitzgerald, an excellent writer with a much fuller style.
One reviewer mentioned that this was one of Hemingway's earliest works, and for that reason suggested it wasn't worthy of five stars (he only gave it two). I think he said Hemingway wasn't yet a mature writer and was still trying to develop his style. What a crock -- Hemingway, like many authors, did his best work early in his career. Heck, the guy eventually committed suicide because he couldn't write anything good anymore. His more "mature" works are only passable and can't hold a candle to the earlier stuff. His prize for "The Old Man and the Sea" was more of a lifetime achievement award than anything else. So save all that "maturity and development" folderol for the black turtleneck gang at the coffee shop.
It's a great book, but it will make you work. If you want an obvious plot and themes that you don't have to think about, maybe you'd be happier with Danielle Steele.