I really don’t get it with Ernest Hemingway. Perhaps I am just historically under informed and his specific style altered the entire scope of the American narrative and I just don’t respect it because I am too used to reading the results and improvements upon it to see it. That’s probably it. However, I just don’t understand what makes him good. His writing has never hit my pallet in a way that didn’t want me to just spit it out or just not want to taste it again. Take The Old Man and the Sea, for instance. I don’t think the novel is good. Plainly, I think it is weak and contrived. So much so that I was certain that I simply didn’t understand it because I thought it was so simplistic. As a result I demanded people older than me read it so they could inevitably see something that I simply could not because I was too young, but no; they saw nothing either and went through the same jarring feeling as me. The feeling of finding out that something you are taught to respect and treasure is actually not really worth your respect or treasuring.
The Sun Also Rises is a decent book. Certainly infinitely better than The Old Man and the Sea, but as far as masterpieces go, I don’t see it either. After reading those two, however, my main crutch became a fear of wanting to read either of Hemingway’s true masterpieces, For Whom the Bell Tolls and A Farewell to Arms. The idea of spending 500+ pages with the man’s writing is simply horrifying. This year, though, I told myself that I would venture into reading memoirs, simultaneously giving Hemingway another shot simply because I knew of a memoir he had written of his time in Paris. A memoir that has been recommended to me countless times by both booktubers and people I interact with on the outernet: A Moveable Feast.
A Moveable Feast is Hemingway’s account of his time spent in Paris as a young writer. It chronicles his fears of living as a real artist and what it meant to him to act accordingly. He takes you through interactions with Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Fitzgerald, Ford Maddox Ford, and a plethora of others. Going in, I really wanted to like it. I wanted Hemingway’s writing to be redeemed and remotely recommendable. After finishing, I can easily say that A Moveable Feast accomplished that.
Perhaps it is Hemingway being sensitive, but this book just seemed so much more real than anything else I have read from him. In his fiction I have always had extreme difficulties in empathizing or identifying with any of his characters. In this, Hemingway somehow made himself less guarded than he has created any of his characters to be. It was refreshing to see a Hemingway who is something other than the picture of masculinity: Bullfighting, boxing, hunting, guns, etc. Don’t get me wrong, he still is Hemingway. There are a few cringeworthy comments on women, child-rearing, and other things, and I won’t be defending him. Yet as someone who aspires to write, reading Hemingway’s sincere ramblings upon his own feelings of inadequacy as a writer was a comforting and uplifting occurrence. What is most interesting about A Moveable Feast is not his depictions of famous writers or the city of Paris, but rather his own explanations of when he wrote, why he wrote, what he read, why he read it, who he trusted, who gave him the best advice, what this advice was, what habits stuck with him, what novels he didn’t understand, what novels he hated, what novels he loved, and so on and so forth.
Beyond that, this is the first Hemingway I have encountered in which I was struck by the prose itself. The book is a slow burn. If you read it quickly I believe you do yourself a huge disservice. There are some books that you should read as quickly as you can to enhance the experience, that leaving the book for an extended period of time will cause you to lose the feeling of why it is great, but there are others in which you need to read a section or a chapter and then take a moment to reflect and walk around a bit. A Moveable Feast is certainly part of the latter. It took me significantly longer to read it than it did The Instructions, despite an 800 page difference existing between the two books’ lengths. In the end, it was simply enjoyable but affecting. I can’t place my finger on anything that explains why, but nonetheless I won’t soon be forgetting A Moveable Feast.
Recommended to: Those who have given up on Ernest Hemingway, those who love memoirs, and those who enjoy artists reflecting on art.
Avoid as if it is the Golden State Warriors and you are supposedly good enough to give them a decent game: Hard to tell anyone to stay clear of this book. If you enjoy reading literary fiction and memoir, you should look into it.