'The Sun Also Rises' by Ernest Hemingway (1927)

Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway, Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises (London: Arrow Books, 2004), 216pp

 

The Sun Also Rises is heralded as the definitive novel of the 'Lost Generation' that experienced the years between the end of World War One and the start of the Great Depression. It is said that Hemingway intended the book to be a defence of that generation, arguing that they were strong and resilient, not decadent and directionless as many perceived. Unfortunately, this is not the impression that I get from reading The Sun Also Rises. The book is a meandering commentary on a bunch of moneyed American expatriates in Europe, who drink and dance in the fashionable parts of Paris, before moving on to drink and dance in Spain, whilst experiencing the fiesta and bullfighting in Pamplona. It seems at times like a self-indulgent chronicle of well-off writers and socialites (the novel is a somewhat autobiographical tale of Hemingway's own experiences in Paris in the Roaring Twenties). Consequently, many aspects of it are rather dated, or simply boring. The love triangle (pentagon? polygon?) revolving around Brett Ashley is also rather baffling. Brett is engaged to Mike, in love with Jake, sleeps with Cohn, runs off with Pedro... It is, at its worst, an insufferable soap opera. She is fickle and promiscuous (though, ironically, she is one of the most believable female characters in the Hemingway canon), but it is the men in the love polygon that are the most curious. None of them seem bitter towards Brett and veer between cuckolded jealousy and amiable, tacit acceptance of her dalliances. My impression was that Jake and his friends, including Brett, were precisely the kind of decadent and directionless figures that Hemingway was trying to dispel.

Despite this (and it does seem like my reviews of Hemingway's work are disproportionately negative, even though I like all the books of his that I have read), I did enjoy the novel and felt content at having read it. There are some good moments, particularly after the party enters Spain, and, like all things Hemingway, it reads easily. Yet I think the reason it is celebrated today is that it showcases, more than any other of his books I have read, Hemingway's skill as a writer. His prose and style - the 'iceberg theory' - is more identifiable in this, his first novel, than in later, more superior works, which makes it a notable read for budding writers or literary enthusiasts. However, the reason for the easier appreciation of prose is because in later works, Hemingway complemented his prose with interesting plots and thematic depth, which one labours to find in The Sun Also Rises.