114 of 126 people found the following review helpful
Interesting and insightful - but not necessarily enjoyable to read,
This review is from: The Sun Also Rises (Paperback)
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.
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Showing 1-10 of 11 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 11, 2007 11:38:34 AM PDT
Grant E. Slade says:
I think you nailed it on the head. I just finished this up, and was unimpressed until I began reading about the symbolism, which I found fascinating ... unfortunately after the fact.
Posted on Oct 3, 2007 6:28:44 AM PDT
Marc Ayres says:
Thank you. I just finished and couldn't decide how to put my synopsis into words. I put the book down thinking how wonderful the writing was, yet how bland the story itself became.
Posted on Feb 12, 2011 1:12:01 PM PST
Pamela F says:
It's been years since this initialreview, but just felt I needed to comment for those late to the party. This review is Right On. I've tried so hard to love Hemingway, especially after reading 'A Moveable Feast' - (which by the way I recommend 100 Percent). I guess I just enjoy reading about his true personal life (especially when he writes it) more than the fictional(although I do believe at least some of Hemingway's work seems to be fashioned after himself and those he has known.) I've also read 'The Old Man And The Sea' and was quite frankly, bored...I guess I just can't identify with an old fisherman. 'For Whom The Bell Tolls' is next - I'm not giving up. Also recommend: Hadley - the story of Hemingways early years with his first wife. Loved It.
Posted on Mar 6, 2012 4:01:26 PM PST
Tom Dylan says:
I think that's Hemingway's whole point: these people lead superficial and aimless lives, that's what the first several chapters are intended to be
Posted on Aug 17, 2012 1:40:48 PM PDT
C. schaill says:
I have read the first 60 pages of this novel and all of the glib conversation is certainly uninteresting. Based upon this review I will forge ahead. Thanks.
Posted on Oct 9, 2012 6:30:46 PM PDT
John Mulvihill says:
Interesting. All the things J. Norburn disliked, I found compelling, perhaps because they are so rarely explored in modern literature. (And I certainly have nothing against J. Norburn.) The prime example of bad things written so well is also the story's theme: men of good character reduced by circumstances to eunuchs, moochers, and alcoholics. Much of the book is now dated: the homophobia, the anti-semitism, even the bullfight. But one thing that will never go out of style is the purest prose style of the 20th century. Since a teenager I have found Hemingway intoxicating to read. The structure and beauty of a single paragraph warrant an afternoon's contemplation. No wonder Joyce gave him an entree into Parisian expat literary society. Yes, he was duplicitous, a fabricator, and a social climber. But he was a great artist and none of his many enemies begrudged him that. And yes, he writes books about forgotten people and empty lives. Even if I didn't find such subject matter interesting, and once again I do, I'd read it anyway if he wrote it. I'd read the bloody airline schedule if he wrote it.
Posted on Sep 5, 2013 11:07:30 AM PDT
Jonathan Cardwell says:
This review makes no sense. What literary work can be appreciated for being entertainment without the introspective qualities of necessary to appreciate the qualities that make up great literature? If you want imaginary friends and good times to boot, stick to the pulp on the current bestseller lists.
Posted on Oct 12, 2013 9:51:07 PM PDT
S. Taylor says:
The primary negative point of this review appears to be that J. Norburn didn't find the characters likable. I don't mean to be either insulting or condescending, but a person is likely to miss out on a lot of terrific novels if he or she insists on liking the characters. Feeling the need to identify with the characters or at least find them appealing seems to me to be an immature approach to reading. Not bad or foolish. Just a little childish. The best seller lists are always full of novels with sympathetic characters. Perhaps Mr/Ms Norburn would find lighter reading more enjoyable.
Posted on Oct 16, 2013 7:43:09 AM PDT
J. Norburn says:
First of all, I have to say I'm a little blown away by the fact that six years after I posted this review, it is still being read and commented on. I appreciate all the comments that have been posted, those who agree and those who disagree with my point of view. To Pamela, it's been almost three years since you said you were planning to read For Whom the Bell Tolls but I hope you enjoyed it. That novel is not only my favorite Hemmingway novel; I think it's one of the best novels ever written.
And I guess, right or wrong, that experience is what I am hoping for every time I pick up a literary novel. I want to be fully engaged in the story. I want it to get under my skin and make me think. I want to pause and re-read passages because the prose is so gorgeously written or remarkably insightful. I want to enjoy the experience of reading a novel on a variety of levels and I believe that the best novels accomplish this. For me, The Sun Also Rises falls short in meeting that expectation.
I seem to have given, at least some readers of my review, the impression that I don't like to read novels that feature unlikeable characters. This is not the case at all. In fact, I am a big fan of novels, films and TV shows that feature flawed, unlikeable, and outright despicable characters. I think my issue with the characters in this novel is that while I empathised with the Lost Generation, with the exception of Brett, they just didn't resonate with me.
I agree with Tom's comment that the aimlessness of the first part of the novel is intentional on Hemmingway's part. But, while I appreciate that this is Hemmingway's point, that the superficial and aimless lives of these characters is a result of their experiences in the war and the disillusion and trauma that follows, but that unfortunately doesn't make for compelling reading.
I'm glad I read this novel. I appreciated it for its literary significance. It found it interesting and insightful but it never really engaged me. I felt a distance to these characters that prevented them from getting under my skin and into my head. Not everyone may agree, but I think truly great literary novels need to not only have something to say but to tell a compelling story. While I think this novel works on the first level, it simply didn't connect with me on the latter.
But that's just one man's opinion. Thanks everyone for your comments.
In reply to an earlier post on Feb 21, 2014 9:10:34 AM PST
Reading as Much as I Can says:
I don't see much in common between The Sun and The Old Man or between The Sun and For Whom the Bell Tolls - although Bell is closer to The Sun than to The Old Man.
If you enjoy reading about his "true personal life" then probably you've read Michael Reynold's volume two of his four volume biography of Hemingway, in which he carefully reconstructs the process by which The Sun was written (highly autobiographical - Hemingway used his own nickname, Hem, for the Jake character until 2/3's of the way through writing the book; Brett was still Duff; Robert was still Harold and so on). This was not entirely a new thing to do, but for the 1920's, for a writer to so carefully document (and essentially, turn a highly critical eye on) his own life and his own friendships, literally exposing private moments to the entire world...this was new. The fact that people were having extra-marital affairs was not new; that Duff/Brett would be so casual about it was a bit avant-garde.
This is perhaps lost on many today. But if you truly know anything about Hemingway's "own personal life" you'd know that the Sun is as much non-fiction as it is fiction, making it all the more rich for critical use today.
We read Hemingway, I think, in order to understand not only the past, but how people work. Very few people from the early part of the 20th century have left such a record of themselves; Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises leaves a record of several people, perhaps not particularly interesting - perhaps just representative - of a certain class and generation.
As to The Old Man, well, in order to understand it, I really suggesting reading the above volume of Michael Reynold's work (The Paris Years) and thinking about what fishing meant to Hemingway - and what fishing means both to avid fisherman (there are many) and why people get "hooked" on particular activities or desires. I'm sure it's true that if I were a man - and a fisherman - I'd "identify" more with the Old Man, but really, Hemingway is asking us to stop expecting to "identify" with the characters in the story - and move imaginatively truly into the space of someone else.
I don't "identify" with the soldiers on the beach at Normandy, but that doesn't make movies about them (no matter how histrionic) uninteresting to me. I don't "identify" with the father in Fellini's Roma, but I find him one of the more interesting characters in cinema. I do think giving up my own "identity" viewpoints in advance of rereading Hemingway helped with Old Man.
I will not dispute, though, that many people find Old Man boring on the first read (I sure did, 30 years ago - perhaps the "Old" part is helping with changing that - although I would certainly not say the book is inherently "entertaining.") Old Man is meant for aficionados, and being an aficionado is of course one of the main themes, driving forces of The Sun Also Rises.
The tragedy of the Sun is that Jake sacrifices even the most important part of his identity (being a true aficianado of the bullfights, a role that cannot just be claimed but must be recognized by other aficionados - it is not the dictionary definition but the bullfighting definition that he means and uses in the book). Jake betrays the young bullfighter after promising that he would not...he allows the one thing the main protector of bullfighters tells him not to do. He enables it, he even aids and abets it.
Your experience with Hemingway is like many people's experience with certain sports (like bullfighting, boxing and fishing). You can try to like or love them, but they are not for everyone. Hemingway definitely wants us to see that we are not all true aficionados.
But the real point of confronting Hemingway is to try and understand, as he tried to do, the age-old question of why we fight and kill. The 20th century and what happened afterward has shown that sometimes, people find fighting/killing behaviors just the right thing to do - and they throw themselves into doing just those things. Why? Is it just men? The Bell will show that it is not just men. We are all very recent descendants of hunter-fisher-gatherers.
Do we not want to know the minds of those who came before us? Can we reject their very different (and perhaps "boring") worldviews because we no longer identify? Or is that the road to ruin...?