I never got on with Hemingway. Slow. Boring. About war and themes that didn’t interest me.
But I re-read this book – A Farewell to Arms – and decided it was truly brilliant. Maybe I am older, maybe I have time to savour the nuances, maybe I have stopped speed reading. I don’t know why, but this time the book read like poetry.
I didn’t really like the main character – the narrator. But that doesn’t matter. In the end, you get caught up with the story, with the relentless progress of the war and with the unfolding of the doomed love affair.
My thoughts on A Farewell to Arms
I found this dusty book on the shelf at home. It belongs to my husband. The sort of book you know you should read, but never quite get round to.
The beginning is slow; long paragraphs describing the countryside with no reference to who the observer was. I thought “he’s breaking all the rules” as I read long sentences that looped across many lines and paragraphs that went on for as long as a page.
The thing about Hemingway is this: I don’t think he knew what the rules are. Or, if he did, I don’t think he cared.
As I got caught up in some long, undulating description about the wide, undulating landscape, I realised I was reading poetry.
Later, there was dialogue that seemed to go on for ever – saying nothing much, the way real people speak.
This is a story set in Italy during the first world war and draws on Hemingway’s real-life experiences as an ambulance driver with the Italian army. For this reason, the story seems chillingly authentic – from the camaraderie with Italian officers and men, alcohol fuelled evenings, the casual sexual exploits, the experience of being injured and hospitalised, the defeat and chaotic retreat of the Italians, the callous execution of officers – Hemingway depicts, without preaching or much exposition, demonstrates vividly the brutality, the futility and the stupidity of the conflict.
Interwoven with the story of the war, is an intimate love story. And, like many love stories during war time, there are bitter-sweet twists and turns. I won’t give away the ending. Just be prepared for a sad one.