Thursday, March 16, 2006

"A Moveable Feast", Ernest Hemingway

Well, this was my first foray into Hemingway country. In A Moveable Feast, this slim (and very quickly read) novel details certain events in Hemingway's life between 1920 and 1926, most of it spent in Paris, drinking wine, eating oysters, and occasionally writing.

Being a memoir of sorts, it didn't really have a plot, other than to watch Ernest wander around Paris and Europe, making do with very little money, gambling at the racetrack once or twice, and having bizarre (and often very inebriated) interactions with such figures as Gertrude Stein (who's portrayed as fickle, careless, and biased), Ezra Pound (generous and kind to a fault) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (who apparently has a vicious, insane wife, can't hold his liquor, and harbours an irrational hatred against Europeans).

I haven't read any of Hemingway's other works (other than the short story "Hills Like White Elephants", which didn't really do anything for me), or Gertrude Stein's, Ezra Pound's, or F. Scott Fitzgerald's, either. I've often heard how Ernest Hemingway was famed for his sparse, short sentences, but I must have heard wrong. Often he has very long and rambling sentences, but his language is very precise and plain. For instance, in "Hills Like White Elephants", instead of having the female character say - "I beg you, could you please be quiet?", the woman instead rambles "Could you please please please please please please be quiet?"

One of the more interesting points of A Moveable Feast is where Mr. Hemingway explains why he uses a style like this - he used to use a more elaborate, detailed, adjective-heavy style, but it was superficial. He wants to write about "truth", and only wants to write down absolutely true things, so he uses plain words that everyone uses instead of big ones that are heard more rarely. Personally, I think that's bull. Hemingway, you're a novelist. The whole point of fiction is to write a giant book full of incredible lies in such a way that the reader believes them even when he or she knows perfectly well they're not true. So, by all means, use common language - but you're not writing truth, you're writing lies intended to fool people.

I know it may sound silly to write of Hemingway as if he's here, reading this, when in fact he was already dead (by suicide) when A Moveable Feast was published. While at first I feel angry that, like so many other supposedly "great" writers, this one felt the need to betray his readers, family, and the gift God gave him and kill himself. I know I have to be understanding - apparently, Hemingway was very depressed, and possessed a number of other health problems. As a (relatively) mentally healthy young woman, I have no concept of depression, no idea of how it affects a person, and I remain completely uncomprehending of the motives that can lead a brilliant person to suicide. I just see that Hemingway was a great writer, and instead of writing, an activity I associate with bringing joy and accomplishment, he blew his literary brains out.


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