Taking the 52 Book Challenge, I’ve promised myself to start a new book every week this year….but I never said anything about finishing them. Below are my impressions (and predictions) after reading only 149 pages of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.
What I Know (Pages 1 – 149)
Mostly a chronicle of Hemingway’s “Lost Generation” in the years after WW1, we follow Jake Barnes through cafés and bullfights, into the relationships of his closest friends and ex-lover Brett Ashley. Jake (left impotent from injuries in the war that ultimately lead to the demise of his own relationship with Brett) is placed alongside men that have abused the intimacy they share with the other females characters in the novel and in one instance, alongside a group of homosexuals that he feels are wasting a perfectly good opportunity to find fulfillment in a woman.
Escaping the tiresome squabbles of Robert Cohn and his girlfriend Frances Clyne for a few moments, Jake takes a prostitute out to dinner, to remind himself of a superficial lifestyle he’s been saved from thanks to his injury. After moving to a nightclub with friends they met at the restaurant, Jake runs into Brett Ashley. She confesses that she is still in love with him but they both understand how impossible their relationship would be.
And this is where I begin to have a problem with the novel.
I love how Hemingway writes. I love the choices he makes in his descriptions, I even love most of what I’m about to point fingers at, but that’s because he brings me there with him. I know, and recognize, and understand these characters so well, immediately, that I forgive them for being themselves. But Jake is just so…defined by his masculinity.
Jake Barnes (essentially a surrogate for the reader, or more likely Hemingway himself) is the one untouchable character in the novel, whose actions and decisions cannot be compromised by something as shameful as his emotions. He alone is free from the bore of skin-deep desires and hollow, meaningless affairs. He is completely justified in what he thinks of everyone’s “weaknesses” because of his removal from some broken structure of dependence- his only regret being that he still wishes, in his darkest moments, that he could be more than observer of this flawed world.
Though I’m sure this all plays well into his bullfighting obsession, I didn’t quite make it far enough into Book 2 to see how this would all develop as the group deteriorated and turned against each other.
Last I left, Jake was taking Brett and her Scottish fiance Mike Campbell, Robert Cohn and Bill Gorton out to see the bulls that would be used in the fights during Fiesta. Cohn intimated that he and Brett had slept together some weeks prior (despite her engagement) and though Jake insisted he was unaffected by the news, I’m sure it leads to the downfall of everything in the remaining 102 pages.
What I Assume Happens (Pages 150 – 301)
First and foremost: Bullfights.
Jake and the squad drink and cheer and fight with each other through the chaos of the Fiesta. Jake plays little attention to everyone else, enraptured by the beauty of the bullfight. He romanticized the killing of the bull, comparing the entire event to a Greek Tragedy (also The War, naturally) while his friends embarrass themselves in front of the locals.
I’m also fairly certain this is the novel that famously describes an abortion. A section of the manuscript he wrote in the waiting room of a hospital while his wife was in labour (…or was that his short story, Hills Like White Elephants???).
My best guess is that Cohn gets Brett Ashley pregnant the evening of a vicious drinking binge, possibly after Mike Campbell abandons the group in a rage.
Jake, our protagonist and the lover she can never have, accompanies Brett to a Parisian doctor for her abortion after Cohn leaves for America. Brett remarks at how they first met in the medical tent after his injuries in the war and how now, what seems like a lifetime later, Jake is at the bedside looking over her.
The two talk about the life they could have had together if it weren’t for that damned, ugly war and the lives it took. Some entirely, some only enough to blur the line between feeling lucky and feeling cheated at the near miss of a brave end.
And because it’s Hemingway (and men are bravest when they die) Cohn dies in an automobile accident or something.
How did I do?
What did I get right?
Where was I completely wrong?
…Should I find time to finish the book?
Let us know in the comments below, and share your own thoughts on Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.