Thursday, February 9, 2012

Literary Bite: A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Thanks to my reading log, I know that I read A Farewell to Arms way back in high school, but I completely forgot everything about it..unfortunately I foresee that cycle as doomed to repeat, as I did not LOVE this book that everyone else seems to adore.

After reading The Paris Wife, I wanted to learn more about Hemingway, so I picked up this book to see if he really is as fantastic as everyone seems to think. 

My verdict, alas, is no. There are aspects of his writing style that I can really appreciate, but I had a hard time getting into A Farewell to Arms. I'm probably being overly harsh, just because there's so much Hemingway hype, so please forgive me for this...

Because I am the type of person who likes to pull apart the pieces and identify exactly what I like and dislike about things, here are my thoughts:

I liked the subject-matter. The story takes place in Italy during World War I, and Lieutenant Henry, the main character, is an American serving in the Italian Army.

The dialog sections read very quickly and are enjoyable. In contrast, the more philosophical parts are a bit slow.  The book is a love story, set against the backdrop of the war. "The coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave but one."

The super-sparse prose, for which Hemingway is famous, is jarringly abrupt. It’s so abrupt that to follow the story, I found myself forced to read aloud in my head. I realize that most people read this way all the time (see the word, hear it, then understand it), but people who read a lot and read quickly do not (it’s more of a see the word then understand it kind of system).  I blame this for my kind of weird reading experience. (Check out this great McSweeny's piece about Hemingway's writing style. Oh jeez, and Hemingway Blonde Jokes.)

The characters are not believable. Specifically Catherine Barkley, the American nurse and Henry’s  “wife,” is totally ridiculous. Judging by the shallowness of her character, it’s clear that Hemingway doesn’t think much of women. Catherine worships Henry, and many of the things she said were soooo eye-rollingly dumb. "There isn’t any me. I’m you. Don’t make up a separate me." 

But at the same time, there was a sweetness to the love story between Henry and Catherine. And by the end, I really did care about her.

Overall it is a very romantic novel, and I mean that in the dictionary sense of the word: fanciful; impractical; unrealistic; imbued with or dominated by idealism, a desire for adventure, chivalry; characterized by a preoccupation with love or by the idealizing of love or one's beloved. 

You should probably read it, just because everyone has and most people like it…what’s wrong with me here?