Shouldn’t this book be a study of narration? It is so simple at times that you feel that you little brother might have written it (“The cab stopped in front of the hotel and we all got out and went in. It was a nice hotel, and the people at the desk were very cheerful, and we each had a good small room”) but then there is an honesty that comes through. This honesty combines with the honesty of the Hemingway characters to face the real, meaningless(?) life which lies in front of them–it may be simple but it is so real (“I could not find the bathroom. After awhile I found it.”), and a simple description is often a profound description. Although Gertrud Stein warned him that “remarks are not literature”, this writing went on to influence American short story writing for decades. This book made me look at language (“I read the papers with the coffee and then smoked a cigarette.”) Language is a series of symbols which excite meanings in our readers. Simple language does this well.
This book reminded me a lot of Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (“I’m going to marry him. Funny, I haven’t thought about him for a week.”) Is it a true cross between The Great Gatsby and On the Road? It is a 20th century novel. I can’t stand it to think my life is going so fast and I’m not really living it. Don’t you ever get the feeling that all your life is going by and you’re not taking advantage of it? Do you realize you’ve lived nearly half the time you have to live already? I liked the descriptions. Many had a double meaning, were vague, nice: With her mouth closed she was a rather pretty girl. I was a little drunk.
Not drunk in any positive sense but just enough to be careless. She was built with curves like the hull of a racing yacht, and you missed none of it with that wool jersey. She was sitting up now. My arm was around her and she was leaning back against me, and we were quite calm. She was looking into my eyes with that way she had of looking that made you wonder whether she really saw out of her own eyes.
They would look on and on after every one else’s eyes in the world would have stopped looking. She looked as though there were nothing on earth she would not look at like that, and really she was afraid of so many things. He was a youngfellow and he held the wine bottle at full arms’ length and raised it high up, squeezing the leather bag with his hand so the stream of wine hissed into his mouth. He held the bag out there, the wine making a flag, hard trajectory into his mouth, and he kepton swallowing smoothly and regularly. It was like certain dinners I remember from the war.
There was much wine,an ignored tension, and a feeling of things coming that you could not prevent happening. Under the wine I lost the disgusted feeling and was happy. Itseemed they were all such nice people. Somebody was teaching Bill a song. Singing it into his ear.
Beating time on Bill’s back. The philosophy of this book is “face life like it is.” They are the lost generation because they are striving to find an order for their world, a world that has been shattered. Their hope is to create a ritual like that of the bull fighters in order to give their life meaning. At worst, they merely have the courage to see that they are forlorn. They are “hemmed in by a birth they did not choose and a death toward which they must inexorably move.” The excessive drinking of the entire group is symptomatic of their dread of cold reality.
I liked Brett just like I liked Daisy in The Great Gatsby. She was pagan yet pseudo-cultured, and never serious. Even she participates in The Hemingway Code: hold a fatalistic acceptance of the difficulties of life play along and don’t make trouble for people avoid self-pity use some form of private ritual in order to handle anxiety give in to despair only in private or in the compay of another member of the breed be able to recognize and establish an immediate understanding with another member of the breed be in constant struggle to see things exactly as they are, no matter how difficult, rather than as one might wish them to be view others with as little condemnation as possible, and whenever possible, look at others with “irony and pity” Robert Cohn is the opposite of this. Cohn is still the idealistic and romatic young man that Jake Barnes might have been had he not been affected by the war. Cohn gets “too many of his ideas out of books.” This is a “book of real characters” (Jake, Cohn, and Brett).
It is existential and Sartrian. Like good, mid-century American jazz, it sets a mood, creates a mellow view of a life.