Friday, 4 October 2013

Classics Spin #3: The Hemingway Spin

I have so far participated in every Classics Club Spin and it is fair to say that I have not been let down yet (not that I am expecting to be let down by a classic but, you know, it happens). For each spin I have had a classic that has surprised me and won me over with its writing, themes and general awesomeness. First off was a Dickens which was, well, was grand. Then I had the chunky Anna Karenina that had me laughing, sobbing and falling in love with the Russians. And then came Hem. What can I say? He knocked my socks off.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway was my challenge for spin number 3. It came in on my 'please, please' list so I was already completely stoked to read it. I didn't think I could get any more excited until I opened the first page and was hit by the Hem. HIS WRITING! Seriously, I am in love with it. It is so sparse, so unforgiving, so blunt and so revealing. I just gobbled it all up. Oddly, I disliked The Sun Also Rises when it read it at uni but I am really considering a re-read because I wonder if my own likes and dislikes when it comes to writing have changed or evolved or matured (whatever you want to call it). Perhaps I've hit that point in my reading that all the things I used to find irritating, I am now able to well and truly admire. Perhaps. I'm still not going to give Pamela another go.

A Farewell to Arms is split into five parts and follows the war story of an American ambulance officer through his service for the Italian army, injury, romance with a Scottish VAD and life through the war. As a lover of war writing I found these aspects particularly interesting. The relationships between the men, the attitude towards sex and women, the attitude towards fighting were all themes I've come across before and there was nothing really new there (not a criticism, by the way). It is a realistic war novel and I think this is one of the reasons it was banned because of the way it represents the Italian retreat. I love a bit of realism. War as a philosophy is discussed frequently (in between drinks) and I found these dialogues most enlightening. It is a thoroughly anti-war novel but it does not just fall into 'war is bad, peace is good' territory. It actually argues the case and demonstrates through the arguments and through the actions that 'there is nothing worse than war'.

The relationship between Catherine and Frederic is, ummm, a tad irritating. Or rather, she is irritating. I think Hemingway has this 'standard' female character that he rolls out for his work and I find her weak, overly whiny and slightly pathetic. Catherine does have a few layers though at least, with intimations of madness and alcoholism. The relationship is such a good contrast to the war and to his bitterness towards the war even if it is still so bleak.

It's a short book but one that is really quite powerful. It has an ending that caught me off guard and left me reeling. I think the word that sprung to mind when I finished it was 'hollow'. I'm not sure why, perhaps it is the anticlimactic climax that should be really climatic but somehow isn't. Not that it's a negative, I think it shouldn't be overly climactic even though the events are...I'm not sure I'm even following myself but I hope you kind of get what I mean. It's shocking and wholly ambiguous  - typical Hemingway!

I'd be really interested to know what you all think of Hemingway's writing style. I know he is kinda like marmite so, do you love him or do you hate him? And how was your spin this time if you participated?



  1. I'm so glad your Spin book worked out for you. I got behind in September and didn't get mine finished, but it's still sitting atop my pile of books.

  2. You liked this one a lot more than me, I found Hemingway's writing extremely annoying. Team Fitzgerald all the way! :P

  3. High-five! Hem's definitely my man too, when it comes to writing. I really really liked For Whom the Bell Tolls earlier this spring!

    Also, love your review.

  4. I seriously disliked A Moveable Feast - not the writing style but Hemingway himself - ugh!! Maybe reading one of his novels certainly sounds like a better way to appreciate his style.


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