Hemingway has quickly become one of my favorite writers. His terse prose is appealing to me, as he writes simply the events that take place as his narrator encounters them. His characters are believable, which makes the dialogue between them clever, funny, and, at times, poignant.
This book, The Sun Also Rises, is in part an unrequited love story, and at the same time much more than that. It is about the disenchanted lives of a group of young Americans after the first World War. Jake, the protagonist, injured from his stint in the military, is haplessly in love with the frivolous Lady Ashley, who plays on Jake’s feelings for her by taking advantage of him time and time again. Their group of friends decide to take a trip to Spain to watch the bull fights at Pamplona. Most of the story unfolds around their witnessing of the bull fights, their dinners and lunches throughout the festival, and their drunken revelations as they face their vulnerabilities.
Mostly, I loved the dialogue in this book. If only I were a writer and could be as cunning as one of Hemingway’s characters. At one point, Ashley has brought up a count to Jake’s room. As they drink an expensive bottle of wine, Jakes says to the count, “You ought to write a book on wines, count.” The count replies, “Mr. Barnes, all I want out of wines is to enjoy them.” At once, the importance of living in the moment is brought home. It rings true both to the reader as an applicable bit of advice, and to a man whose generation was forced to live in the moment because of a deadly, revolutionary war. Many of the discussions throughout the book between the characters allow a gentle sadness to seep though the words. As another example, while in Pamplona, Jake enjoys the banter between his drunk friends and thinks to himself as the night draws to a close: “It was like certain dinners I remember from the war. There was much wine, an ignored tension, and a felling of things coming that you could not prevent happening. Under the wine I lost the disgusted feeling and was happy. It seemed they were all such nice people.” Of course Jake spoke of the bull fights and his disgust for some of the more brass comments made at dinner, but he alludes to the war outright, and the sadness he feels is made overt ever so subtly.
This sadness, expressed by almost every character, is the inevitable outcome of every action throughout the book. There is no fulfillment, even in the partying by Jake and his friends. The most calming sequence of events takes place as Jake fishes with one of of his friends before getting to Spain. The several days they spend out on the water evokes a nostalgic feeling, but again the sadness is ever present as the reader realizes it will soon come to an end. It is a reminder that no matter where enjoyment is attained, it soon comes to an end. All things die, including happiness.
Whether or not you agree with the motifs presented in the book is irrelevant. All things end; there can be no evading the inevitable.