Ernest Hemingway‘s The Sun Also Rises is one of his most well-known, and well-loved novels. Published in 1926, it is said to depict the life, ideals, and frustrations of the “Lost Generation” – intellectual young men and women enlightened during the years after World War I. Hemingway himself was one of the “founding” members of the Lost Generation, along with his friends and fellow writers, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and T.S. Eliot.
The Sun Also Rises is a story about a group of friends – American and British expats, living and working in Paris in the 1920’s. The narrator, Jake Barnes, is an American journalist who graduated from Princeton, who fought and was injured in the war. The first half of the book mostly follows Jake around Paris, meeting friends for meals and drinks, but majority of the novel describes the trip he takes with his small group of friends to a small town in Spain for a few weeks of fishing, which ultimately ends in Pamplona, where they participate in the activities of the fiesta, and watch the famous bullfights.
Jake starts off his vacation with Bill, a close friend visiting from America. Jake and Bill go to Burguete, Spain, to enjoy a few weeks of fly fishing in the town’s cold, clear, blue rivers. After their fishing trip, they go on to Pamplona, where they are joined by Robert Cohn, an American ex-boxer who Jake knows from Princeton, Lady Brett Ashley, a long-time friend of Jake’s and the love interest of several of the male characters, and her fiancee Mike. While staying at the Montoya Hotel in Pamplona, Jake and his friends carouse the town filled with raucous tourists and fiesta-goers. Jake introduces his friends to the horrifyingly fascinating bull fights, and Lady Brett, despite being with her fiance, falls in love with one of the up-and-coming young Matador.
In his characteristic sparse writing style, Hemingway describes not only the beautiful Spanish countryside and the people of both rural and urban Spain, but also the glamour and romance of living in the City of Light. He doesn’t much elaborate on the personalities and inner thoughts of his characters, but lets readers see and judge for themselves what kind of people they are through their actions. Of course what The Sun Also Rises is really known for is its vivid and gory descriptions of the famous bullfights in Pamplona; its detailed narrative on the culture of bullfighting in Spain, and how it romanticizes the lives of the Matadors. Jake, like Hemingway, is a bullfighting aficionado – passionate about the art of bullfighting and seriously follow the careers of different Matadors.
I read this novel months ago, but, to be honest, I kept putting off writing about it because I really didn’t know what to say about it. After A Farewell to Arms, which was about the war, I had high hopes for The Sun Also Rises, thinking that since it was about travel and culture (and not the war), I would probably like it better. Like A Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises was boring, but interesting at the same time. Hemingway’s simple and straightforward narrative style is really very addictive, so despite being bored to death with the novel, you feel strangely compelled to read it to the end. Unfortunately, Hemingway’s novels tend to end abruptly, with no clear resolution or conclusion, leaving readers to fend for themselves when it comes to analyzing the point of what they had just read. Also, like in A Farewell…, Hemingway spent a great deal of time in The Sun Also Rises describing his characters eating and drinking, and drinking, and drinking….
In the end, I think I actually liked A Farewell to Arms better. Despite its war-centered theme, I felt that it had more of a story and substance than The Sun Also Rises, which to me was mainly about a group of rich intellectuals boozing and living it up in Europe without a care in the world.
For a time, I was very interested in the personal life of Ernest Hemingway – I read 2 of his novels this year, and the memoir of his alleged first love, Agnes Von Kurowsky. I may have said this already in a previous post, but I feel I have a love-hate relationship with Hemingway. I want to, but don’t want to read his novels. One of the things I hate about his novels are the odd dialogues between his characters that to me, feel awkward and unreal. But I think that’s a problem I have with most novels written in the 1920’s. I find their jargon and ways of expressing themselves unfathomable and fake…did people in the 20’s really talk like that?
With The Sun Also Rises, I’d have read 4 of Hemingway’s novels, including The Old Man and the Sea (which I liked), A Farewell to Arms (which I thought was OK), and A Moveable Feast (which I loved). I’ve also read several of his short stories. The only major novel I haven’t read is For Whom the Bell Tolls. From what I know about it, it’s also a book about war. Am I interested in reading about the war? Not particularly. Do I want to read For Whom the Bell Tolls? Not really. Am I going to read For Whom the Bell Tolls? Most probably.
The Sun Also Rises (1926) – Ernest Hemingway
Scribiner Paperback Fiction; 251 pages (paperback)
Personal rating: 2.5/5