This week Scribner sent me a newly published softcover edition of Ernest Hemingway's first full-length novel, "The Sun Also Rises." This is in commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the book, which was written in 1926.
Even though it is No. 1, "The Sun Also Rises" is considered by many to be a masterpiece, and it is almost always mentioned when Hemingway comes up. Scribner bills the book as "a poignant look at the disillusionment and angst of the post-World War I generation," and it includes two of Hemingway's more memorable characters, Jake Barnes and the beautiful Lady Brett Ashley.
To make it even more daring, Scribner also sent an audio version of the book, narrated with panache by that fine actor, William Hurt.
Well, I had never read the book, so I popped the audio copy into my car and started listening to it.
Hurt does a really remarkable job telling the story, employing various accents of characters with grace and putting lots of feeling into the conversation. He makes the dialogue come alive. But, honestly, the dialogue is so spare, repetitive and uninspired that it occurred to me that Hurt's absence might be disastrous.
I tried reading the book itself and saw that it was true. On the quiet page with only Hemingway to provide me with text, I was suddenly bereft of feeling. The novel seemed dead. Even the descriptions of wild nightlife of 1920s Paris and the brutal bullfighting couldn't rescue a story that seemed to be going nowhere.
I realize that Hemingway is often characterized as more of an adventurer — a globetrotter who loved bullfights, booze, women, wars, big-game hunting and deep-sea fishing ... and once in a while wrote novels.
But this novel is so very simple, the plot almost nonexistent.
There is a tremendous amount of drinking, but the words used most often are "tight," an out-of-fashion term meaning drunk; "fine," as in, "Paris is a fine town all right"; "nice," as in, "She's damned nice"; and "swell," as in, being obsessed with sex "sounds like a swell life."
And there is a strange racist reference to a black boxer.
Essentially a group of men — expatriates Bill, Mike, Jake and Robert Cohn, the one none of them can stand — hang around the beautiful Brett, get drunk, each hoping she will fall in love with him.
But Brett is out of reach. She raises the blood pressure of all of these men on occasion, but her eye is always on some other man — such as a bullfighter. Indeed. She's a heartbreaker.
Obviously, I didn't care for this book.
If you either share my opinion or think I just don't get Hemingway, I'd like to hear from you.