Monday, 11 July 2011

The Sun Also Rises

I was walking with Chris and Anjum in a small satellite suburb of Basel, when we came across a small table selling old books and knick-knacks outside a house. On a whim, encouraged perhaps by Anjum's enthusiastic pickup of a cutting board shaped like an apple, I grabbed a copy of Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises (published in the UK under the title Fiesta), putting 2 euros in a letterbox by way of payment.

I had intended to keep the book for my voyage home from Europe, but in the end I made a start on it as bedtime and bus reading while in Rennes. Still, I reserved the bulk of the book for the train ride between Rennes and Charles de Gaulle airport on Saturday, finishing the last 20 or so pages on a bench in the airport (when I probably should have been queueing for checkin).

Hemingway is one of those 20th century American authors who really should have been on my to-read list a long time ago, given how much I have enjoyed American literature from the period in which Hemingway operated. Its never to late to start, though, and I'm glad that I started with this book. For one thing, it was one of his first successes, and for another, its short; at about 200 pages, it falls under that delightful appellation of a "novella", probably my favourite format.

The story is told from the perspective of Jake Barnes, an American journalist, and moves from Paris down into Spain as the book progresses. The characterisations are quite good - Barnes is left fairly blank (I think deliberately - he's almost certainly a projection of the author), but I really felt a familiarity (albeit not always an empathy) with characters like Cohn, Mike and Brett (who is essentially the antagonist, as well as the love interest of the narrator and of various other characters throughout the book).

The writing is strong and to the point, but not without distinctive style. He uses the trick of translating French and Spanish (I think) very directly, which renders foreign phrases into strange English concoctions that only really make sense when thought of in terms of their original language. "How are you called?" and "a species of woman", strike oddly to the ear in English, but are much more natural in French. It was serendipitous for me, I suppose, that he uses this convention first in French, for which I was able to understand the technique, before using it in Spanish. Had it happened the other way around I would perhaps have simply found the wording strange, rather than appreciating the intent.

Having started the book, it quickly became apparent that it would not last me very long, so I spent some time on Saturday, both in Rennes and in CDG, looking for my next book. As chance would have it, what presented itself was, marooned amongst a sea of Dan Brown airport novels, a copy of For Whom The Bell Tolls, by the same Ernest Hemingway. I made a start on it, and had intended to give it strong attention on the flight from Paris to Dubai to Brisbane, but found myself distracted by films (Paul, 127 Hours, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Player), so have only gotten a little way in.

The other book on my horizon is a promised loan of Johnno, by David Malouf, a prominent entry on the list of Australian authors I should read.