Review – Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises

I’m going to write a review of all the books in my TBR pile. This is the first one.

I should start this review by saying, I love Hemingway. His distinctive writing style with its journalistic qualities, there’s just something about it. Compelling but I’m never quite sure why. This, his first novel, is the fifth book of his I’ve read.

Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises, is about a group of friends who mostly live in Paris, going to Spain together to see the Fiesta and the bullfights (there’s quite a lot about bullfighting). It’s not really about anything else, just the building and disintegrating of relationships over the course of that week.

The main character – at least the character who’s voice we hear the story from is Jake Barnes. Jake has a wee bit of a problem, he fought in World War One and this left him impotent – this is implied rather than specifically stated.

Because of this, Jake who is in love with Brett, Lady Ashley, are forever destined to be apart. She doesn’t want to be shackled to a man who, well let’s just say can’t “fulfil” her.

To be honest, this is an awful book. The characters are horrid, the only kind of half interesting one is made the side show – the figure of ridicule throughout the book both because of his Jewishness and the fact he seems not quite get the rules of the game.

Jake’s relationship with Brett is at best masochistic. He enables her to have her affairs and doesn’t seem to mind to much that her behaviour hurts others along the way. In fact, he seems to side with her. I think he feels bad about the whole thing both for himself and others, but Hemingway’s writing style doesn’t really do internal reflection and so the reader implies this (possibly because we feel bad about how they are all behaving).

Fiesta, is very much a book of its time. The casual racism, using Jew and other racists words to describe people is startling. There were times when this made me pause, consider whether I wanted to keep reading this book. I did because while vile today, it is the way people thought and spoke when this was written. And I think says something about the characters in this story.

It’s interesting to note that the most sexually free of all the characters is Brett. And that her need for sexual relationships seems to be without judgement. I’m sure that’s supposed to say something given she’s a woman and all the men around her seem impotent in one way or another but I’m not sure what.

If you read classic literature to understand something about the universality of the human condition (whatever that means), then there was something in this story that still resonates in 2018.

The story is to be about young(ish) people who have had their lives disrupted because of the war. The world has dramatic altered and they are no longer sure who they are, where they fit or whether there’s any point to anything.

And so they seek temporary pleasures – drinking and getting tight (drunk) as it is referred to in the novel. Alcohol features pretty heavily in this book – there’s almost no scene where they aren’t drinking themselves stupid. They do this to fill the great big empty hole in their lives.

The novel is painted as one big party, dancing the night away in Paris, partying with locals at the Fiesta. It doesn’t make them happy. In fact, it made them miserable, Jake at least knows this.

To me, the questions posed in this book are questions we are still asking ourselves today. What are we all doing here? And given the fleeting nature of life, why not do the thing that makes you happy even if it’s just temporary? Eat, drink and be merry because tomorrow you could die.

Despite this book being quite short, it isn’t always great to read. It’s obviously Hemingway and misses some of the finesse of his later works. Where the book comes alive is in the middle section when they are at the Fiesta. You can feel the noise and colour, the heat and the violence.

This book is a slow burner.  It seems on the surface about not much at all but when you dig a bit deeper, it really says something else.



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