Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Farewell To Arms

I admit I am but a fledgling Hemingway reader.
Definitely not yet an aficionado of the canon!
There are times when I still falter over his simplistic style, his reporter-like, almost point-form and unembellished narration. His pithy dialogue which seems at times so unusual that I am jarred into the realization that I am holding a book in my hands.
But this book, A Farewell To Arms was a fantastic read and has given me a new appreciation, I guess, for Hemingwayism© in general.
Genre-wise, it is somewhat of a historical romance, set squarely in WWI Italy and Switzerland. Lots of war, lots of rain, lots of gore, lots of pain.

I hesitate from saying too much about the novel, story-wise, because truly there are many ways that one could ruin it for others, by saying too much, especially as regards its increasingly-paced and unforgettably moving final sections. [The novel is broken down into five parts, books, or sections].
For me as a reader, one of the key things [feelings] I am left with is an overwhelming sense of the simultaneous dual-existence of meaninglessness and meaningfulness.
I feel that this is a theme or thread running the length of the novel.

There is the meaninglessnes of war.
The seemingly arbitrary way that beautiful things can be so quickly taken from us, be they dignity, or love, or life itself. The suddenness of bone-crunching shrapnel in the midst of friendly camaraderie… bombs putting an end to meaningful conversation. War is a perpetual mess, needing to be cleaned up.
But alongside this “meaninglessness” [what I am calling meaninglessness for lack of a better term], Hemingway paints a searing portrait of love and the meaningfulness of intimate relationship.
Lt. Henry’s [solidly requited] love for the Scottish nurse Catherine Barkley is like repeated flashes of color thrown into the clattering frames of a black-and-white newsreel. Meaningfulness, inserted into mayhem.
It was something beautiful, growing, thriving and enduring in a field of ugliness, disaster and loss.
The novel ended with the tears of two men.
Lt. Henry’s.
And mine.

I could say so much more about #74 on the list of the 100 Best Books of All Time, but I won’t. I will simply ask a question and then answer it:
In A Farewell To Arms, does Hemingway show us that the meaningfulness of love and goodness and hopes and dreams are altogether something too good to be true?
He shows us that all of these things are too good, and true!



Jeane said...

I loved this book. I need to read it again. I have not managed to get into any more Hemmingway, although two of my sisters like many of his other novels.

Anonymous said...

Jeane, I love it too. This is one of my favorite of all the Hemingway works I have read.
Not that I have read that many either.

You might like his short stories...Men Without Women, for instance. Or the newer edition of the Nick Adams stories which are printed in chronological order, told as Nick grows up. That helped me considerably in CARING a lot about Nick.

Hemingway just moves me, I guess. The elemental themes and economy of prose.

I know more about his personal life than almost any other author I have read and I suppose that influences me. You also might like his Moveable Feast...real gossipy stuff! Name dropping all over the place. And today with all the hype and controversy over the "truth" of published memoir, this book is one that would surely make the talk shows.

Nice review, cipriano. I totally know what you are saying about the dual existence of meaningful and meaningless. I believe the dream myself.
But that's just me.

Merisi said...

Oh yes, I do remember,
I cried my heart out,
when I read this as a teenager.
You are so right!