Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Book Review: The Sun Also Rises

"One generation  passeth away and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever.....The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteneth to the place where he arose...."  Ecclesiastes

Two quotes adorn the forward of Ernest Hemingway's celebrated Novel, The Sun Also Rises.

The other is a sarcastic tribute to the lost generation that lived in the aftermath of WWI.

Here is a description of the book from wikipedia:

"The Sun Also Rises is a 1926 novel written by American author Ernest Hemingway about a group of American and British expatriates who travel from Paris to the Festival of San Fermín in Pamplona to watch the running of the bulls and the bullfights. An early and enduring modernist novel, it received mixed reviews upon publication. Hemingway biographer Jeffrey Meyers writes that it is "recognized as Hemingway's greatest work",[2] and Hemingway scholar Linda Wagner-Martin calls it his most important novel.[3] The novel was published in the United States in October 1926 by the publishing house Scribner's. A year later, the London publishing house Jonathan Cape published the novel with the title of Fiesta. Since then it has been continuously in print."

I read the book in one day. I loved it! Why, I can't state clearly.

I feel smarter after I read a Hemingway. I want to spout words and sound intellectual.

I liked the book for its grit and its failures. The book fails to portray humans as anything more than they are. I love that.

The book is about a group of friends who drink too much and are always off dancing and drinking and eating in Paris. The lead character, from whose perspective the story is told, is a reporter named Jake, an American, who lives in Paris who fought in the war and became impotent as a result of war wounds.

The men have trouble curbing their masculine desires.Even the impotent Jake who follows the bull fights and seems to envy the bulls' their brute strength, while, at the same time, admiring the fighters who kill them. Perhaps this justifies his impotence, that the brute drive of masculinity is so easily exploited unto a gory death. Lady Ashley, Brett in the story, to Jake, who has known her long, flits from one man to another, seemingly unable to stop her reckless endeavor, and seeks relevance in sexual encounters that become nothing more than extended one night stands. As do the men, but the consequences are different for Brett.

In the first part of the book, Jake encounters his unhappy college friend Robert Cohn, twice married and divorced, roundly disliked by the other friends and eventually Jake too, as uninteresting and pathetic. He has a woman, none too innocent herself, who is set on marrying him. Cohn leaves her immediately, despite a three year romance, once he lays eye on Brett. They spend time together, despite Brett's engagement to a bankrupt Scott named Mike.

They are in and out constantly, as these characters are developed, in the cafes and drinking establishments of Paris until I wanted to be sick to think of all this drinking and eating. The characters are developed fully, but I came to see them quickly as shallow and irrelevant people. I was glad I wasn't any of them, by the end of the book. Social butterflies of the time, with no ability to form deep relations, except during the second part of the book, when Jake is off fishing in the mountains, with another American friend, who seems the most stable of all.

After reading this part of the story, I thought 'You'd think they'd get over it, all the drinking parties, moving from one establishment to the next, and search out something more substantial for a life.  Like if I here eat too much sugar in a two day time, until I want to fast and vomit and eat things like nuts and fruit.'  But some people never get over that sort of time, like the frat boys, most move on from the drinking and pranks on one another, but some live in that time like a life sentence and only wish they could return to live it more, as they age.

Brett in particular is a sad case, flitting from man to man, always in the end, turning to Jake, who also loves her, telling him how miserable she is.

They all go off to the festival in Pamplona, Spain. Together. Mike, about to marry Brett, gets into drunken riffs with Robert Cohn, who has followed them like a puppy, still panting over prior weeks spent with Brett. He does not realize she's done with him, too, and he's on the used pile.

Jake goes off to the mountains on a fishing expedition with Bill and this is the most peaceful and desirable part of the book. I could feel the tension in their lives despite this short respite from it. It gave me cause to believe these men could develop relationships, at least with one another. Always the heavy drinking though, even in the mountains on their fishing trip.

Bull fighting is a terribly brutal sport. It pits man against beast with all the tilting done to favor man, to exalt man as supreme. It reminds me of men who buy big pickups and put their gun racks so they can be seen through the rear window and men who have very deliberately vicious dogs.

There is a great need among some men to be seen outwardly as savage and masculine, even if inside they quail at the thought of adulthood and responsibility and fail at any relationship or job.

It is easy and superficial to resort to basic instincts of violence and sexuality and dominance.  The last resort?  Or is it pretentious of humans to pretend that we are more than basic instincts dressed nicely and educated over? (I can see some convulsing in anger to think of bull fights as they sit comfortably, reading, and snacking on a burger, made of cows, prodded to the slaughter, trembling with fear born from knowledge of their certain fate.  I consider in this world a better fate, than to have no chance, to possibly turn a horn and slit a matador open at the least, rather than be lined up, one after the other, to die, hooked and hanging, quartered and still trembling at the slaughter house.)

This group of friends were impotent. They flailed at one another with words when drunk over who would be winner of Brett. While Brett set herself upon a young matador the moment she laid eyes upon him. He would be the one to win her, take her, satisfy the longings and needs within her. She just knew it.

The three final matadors on the fiestas final day include two has beens, who are booed and mocked, bitter in their status by now, aged by it, ruined by the sport they thought would rocket them to fulfillment. The young matador conquered already by Brett, is attacked by Robert Cohn, who is jealous and cannot leave it and go. He finally does leave, but not before also flattening his only real friend, Jake, with his fists, and Mike too, who has been abandoned by Brett.

After the festival mercifully ends, the friends part ways, now somewhat sober. Jake heads off to a quieter place to finish out his vacation. He gets a cable from Brett, already in trouble in Madrid. She's been left by her young matador. It's Jake to the rescue.

The story ends with Jake and Brett in a cab. Brett is babbling again about how good they could have been together.

Then comes the very best line in the book and its the last line, giving it clout and remembrance. I'll probably use it myself.

"Oh, Jake," Brett says, "we could have had such a damned good time together."

"Yes." I said. "Isn't it pretty to think so?"

What a line! What a book.

Good gracious Earnest Hemingway.

"One generations passeth away and another generations cometh but the earth abideth forever...."

The circumstances changed for characters in this book.  The people moved in and out of different situations and locations.  People came and went.  In and out.  But their natures abideth forever.  We are who we are.

Sunrise, sunset.....we are specks in the vastness of space and time.  We take a few breaths and we're gone for good.  Make those breaths sweet as sweet can be, I say.  We don't matter.  I like to remember that.  I think it makes it all easier.

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