Want to read with me? Follow this link to view the list and pick a book (or a few!) to read along with me. I'd love for this project to be collaborative, and will post anyone's thoughts beside my own.

Friday, June 8, 2012

It's like a wonderful nightmare.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
The Sun Also Rises is a story of partying, drinking, suffering, laughing, and life outside the norms of daily existence. It follows Jake Barnes, a returned soldier made impotent in the war, and his group of friends on excursions and outings in Paris, San Sebastian, Burguete, and Pamplona. He and his companions enjoy fishing trips, dance parties that continue well into the early hours, running with the bulls in Pamplona, and numerous bull fights. Jake has an intimate connection to a woman named Lady Brett Ashley; they seem as if they could be a couple if he were not impotent. They never date, but he serves as her friend and rebound between men, and their link lingers throughout the tale. Robert Cohn is Jake's "friend" and acquaintance, and he has a fling with Brett (as do Mike and Romero, the star bull-fighter) but Brett is over him quickly and everyone is mostly annoyed that he's with them. Things escalate until Robert punches Mike and Jake because they let Brett run off with Romero (and Robert was a boxer, so Mike and Jake get pretty knocked around) and Robert finds Romero and beats him up as well, then finally he leaves the group and returns to Paris to his wife, Frances (or perhaps they never were married and she's his lover. Can't quite recall if that was made clear.) The group disassembles after the weeklong fiesta of the bull-fights and ensuing celebrations, at which point Jake returns to San Sebastian alone and relaxes. After a few days, Brett sends him an urgent telegram telling him she needs him. He travels to Madrid where he finds that Brett has sent off Romero, realizing that their affair will never work (she's 34, he's 19, he wanted to marry her, she was all, "get in line/go enjoy your youth", yadda yadda yadda.) She sent the telegram when she wasn't sure Romero would agree to leave, but he left in the time it took Jake to get there by train. Brett tells Jake she will probably go back with Mike, and the novel ends with the two of them side by side in the back of a car, driving through Madrid and contemplating if they would have made a good pair.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

I found this book more interesting than I thought I would. It took me a while to get into Hemingway's prose, but I found that I really liked it by the end, and his no-frills, stark narration got to me. If you haven't read any Hemingway, I'd definitely recommend that you pick one of his novels up. (I haven't read the others, but I just checked my list and the big guns are all on there -- For Whom the Bell TollsThe Old Man and the Sea, and A Farewell to Arms -- so I'm looking forward to reading them.) The writing isn't challenging in the way that Joyce or many of the other classics can be, and there's a dynamic quality to his dialogue if you can get into the rhythm of the book. This book felt a bit like riding a horse that I didn't know well (or what I would imagine that would feel like) -- when I started it, we were moving forward, but sort of jerkily, and there was an unsure quality to the movement. As I settled in and continued reading, the ride became smoother, and the hesitancy started to fade away. As I finished the novel, I realized I'd been enjoying the ride for quite some time without thinking about it anymore. I guess some novels are a joyful ride all the way through, but I've found that many of the best ones (or at least the ones I enjoy the most) I have to work for a little in the beginning and the middle.

This post is going to be a long one (I can feel it!) so you might want to save it for a lunch break or a lovely stolen hour at that coffee shop you love if you're pressed for time when you come upon it. ;)

My thoughts, in no particular order:

-- This book had an "out-of-time" quality to it. I feel like I could read it all over again and Jake and Brett would be in the same place, no further forward or back. Do you know how sometimes when you finish a book you really like (or a series) you imagine the lives of the characters moving forward, either explicitly or just in a sort of dreamy emotion? Harry Potter, for instance, is still out there, continuing to enjoy married life with Ginny and being pals with Ron and Hermione, and the magic world is thriving and advancing, whether J.K. Rowling writes it or not. With Jake and Brett, I felt like they started out of time and ended out of time and so they'll always be rolling back and forth in this limbo. It makes me think of when I watch a new movie and I really like a moment and I want to just STOP and not let the movie go on, because I want to exist in that moment and think of the movie as being in that moment but then Whoosh - all of a sudden the moment is over and the movie is rolling and you can't quite ever have it back the same way because now things have happened after it and you remember them and you can't unremember them. Make any sense? Maybe that's just me.

-- Jake sits down to read the papers and remarks, "They would both have the same news, so whichever I read first would spoil the other." I think this every morning when I contemplate whether to read the Washington Post or the New York Times first. They often even have the same photo on the front page. I like to alternate so one doesn't get preferential treatment (although I must admit I'm partial to the Times).

-- Jake's concierge at his apartment in Paris likes to sort his guests for him -- "She kept an eye on the people of the pesage, and she took great pride in telling me which of my guests were well brought up, which were of good family, who were sportsmen...The only trouble was that people who did not fall into any of those three categories were very liable to be told there was no one home, chez Barnes.  One of my friends, an extremely underfed-looking painter, who was obviously to Madame Duzinell neither well brought up, of good family, nor a sportsman, wrote me a letter asking if I could get him a pass to get by the concierge so he could come up and see me occasionally in the evenings." hilarious! Which of your friends would be kept from seeing you if you had a concierge?

-- A Count (one of the many men that Brett spends time with in the book) shows off his arrow wounds to her. It's crazy to think that a book that feels so current in many ways can have a man talking about wounds from a war made with actual arrows. I mean, how many people get arrow wounds these days? Not many in this country, I'd think. Mostly from hunting accidents, probably.

-- A sampling of how Hemingway creates an image that's clear as crystal in your mind with no-nonsense strings of unassuming sentences:
"The train stopped for half an hour at Bordeaux and we went out through the station for a little walk. There was not time to get in to the town. Afterward we passed through the Landes and watched the sun set. There were wide fire-gaps cut through the pines, and you could look up them like avenues and see wooded hills way off. About seven-thirty we had dinner and watched the country through the open window in the diner. It was all sandy pine country full of heather.  There were little clearings with houses in them, and once in a while we passed a sawmill.  It got dark and we could feel the country hot and sandy and dark outside the window..." and you're there! you can almost touch it it's so real.

-- I love this scene with Jake praying. It feels exactly like any time (a) I've tried to pray for more than 2 or 3 minutes (b) I've sat through a full-length quartet concert, or (c) I've spaced out playing a full-length quartet concert.
"I prayed that the bull-fights would be good, and that it would be a fine fiesta, and that we would get some fishing. I wondered if there was anything else I might pray for, and I thought that I would like to have some money, so I prayed that I would make a lot of money, and then I started to think how I would make it, and thinking of making money reminded me of the count, and I started wondering about where he was, and regretting I hadn't seen him since that night in Montmartre, and about something funny Brett told me about him, and as all the time I was kneeling with my forehead on the wood in front of me, and was thinking of myself as praying, I was a little ashamed, and regretted that I was such a rotten Catholic, but realized there was nothing I could do about it, at least for a while, and maybe never, but that anyway it was a grand religion, and I only wished I felt religious and maybe I would the next time."

-- Exchange between Bill (another friend of Jake's) and Jake during their fishing trip:
Jake: "Come on. Get up."
Bill: "What? Get up? I never get up."
He climbed into bed and pulled the sheet up to his chin.
"Try and argue me into getting up."
I went on looking for the tackle and putting it all together in the tackle-bag.
"Aren't you interested?" Bill asked.
"I'm going down and eat."
"Eat? Why didn't you say eat? I thought you just wanted me to get up for fun. Eat? Fine. Now you're reasonable. You go out and dig some more worms and I'll be right down."

he he he he he. this reminded me of when a certain SOMEONE decided it was a good idea to wake another person (aka DISTURB HER SLUMBER) and throw her on the back of a bicycle and send it FLYING down the streets of San Francisco. up? did you say, UP? next time someone might just be TOO SLEEPy to get up and go on adventures. nasty things. make you late for tea.

-- During a fishing break, Jake reads a book and describes where things are left off:
"The book was something by A.E.W. Mason, and I was reading a wonderful story about a man who had been frozen in the Alps and then fallen into a glacier and disappeared, and his bride was going to wait twenty-four years exactly for his body to come out on the moraine, while her true love waited too, and they were still waiting when Bill came up." hilarious. When I'm interrupted in the middle of a book, I often feel guilty that I've left a character in a difficult or unpleasant situation, and hurry up my intervening activity so that I can leave them in a better place next time I pause.

-- Jake and Bill make friends with a man named Harris (but they call him Wilson-Haris because they're so fond of him ;) ) and when they part ways, Harris gives them a packet of flies he's handmade himself. When Jake tries to thank him, Harris interrupts, "No, no! They're not first-rate flies at all. I only thought if you fished them some time it might remind you of what a good time we had." So adorable.

-- Jake goes to a store to buy some leather wine casks (the better to drink their wine with, of course - it's FIESTA after all!):
"Inside it smelled of fresh tanned leather and hot tar. A man was stencilling completed wine-skins. They hung from the roof in bunches. He took one down, blew it up, screwed the nozzle tight, and then jumped on it."
"See! It doesn't leak."
Fantastic. The next time I buy something, I'm going to ask if I can jump on it at the store before I buy it.

Passages I particularly enjoyed (aren't you just loving this new section of my posts? i know I AM!)
  • "I can't stand it to think my life is going so fast and I'm not really living it."
  • "It's awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is another thing."
  • "There are people to whom you could not say insulting things. They give you a feeling that the world would be destroyed, would actually be destroyed before your eyes, if you said certain things."
  • "I had the feeling as in a nightmare of it all being something repeated, something I had been through and that now I must go through again."
  • "I read the Turgenieff. I knew that now, reading it in the oversensitized state of my mind after too much brandy, I would remember it somewhere, and afterward it would seem as though it had really happened to me. I would always have it."
  • Speaking on fiesta -- "Everything became quite unreal finally and it seemed as though nothing could have any consequences."
  • Jake explains the bull fight to Brett -- "I explained to Brett what it was all about...so that it became more something that was going on with a definite end, and less of a spectacle with unexplained horrors."
  • "The fiesta absorbed even the Biarritz English so that you did not see them unless you passed close to a table."
  • "Mike lay on the bed looking like a death mask of himself."
Also, a nod of farewell to the recently deceased Ray Bradbury, a pioneer of writing and author of what is now one of my all-time favorite books, Fahrenheit 451. If you haven't read it (in a while, or ever) go grab a copy and enjoy it. Like Hemingway says, you'll always have it. (Unless you don't read it, in which case you WON'T! and you never know, maybe one day you'll WISH you had! Maybe you'll become the Book of Ecclesiastes instead! Or something else you read that's not as good as Fahrenheit that will stick up ooey-gooey parts of your brain and take up residence where something better could live!)

Well, it's late and I have a tennis date tomorrow morning. Onwards to the Eminently Seeable Woman. Yes. Remembered the title perfectly this time. Sure of it.

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