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The Sun Also Rises

A book by Ernest Hemingway

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The Sun Also Rises, but I'm Staying in Bed

  • Mar 24, 2007
Rating:
-3
Pros: Scenery descriptions are exceptional

Cons: They're also like movie special effects - don't enhance it one bit

The Bottom Line: I'll stick with Twain and Vonnegut, thank you very much

The United States of America has been around for less than 250 years. It’s amazing how this country has produced so many great writers in that short span of time: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, James Fenimore Cooper, Stephen Crane, Herman Melville, Harper Lee, and Kurt Vonnegut just to name some of the better-known ones. I know what you’re thinking right now: What about Ernest Hemingway? Well, let me tell you about Hemingway: The only Hemingway book I’ve ever read is The Sun Also Rises. I hated it so much that I swore him off forever. I’m sure a few literary buffs will be quick to tell me about the sweeping, moving drama from A Farewell to Arms or For Whom the Bell Tolls, and that’s just fine. I won’t deny it because I haven’t read either of them. They may very well be excellent. However, awful as The Sun Also Rises was, I’d rather not take the chance. As far as I’m concerned, Hemingway’s greatest contribution to American literature was his voluntary self-removal from it. The Sun Also Rises actually made his suicide seem a lot less tragic.

The Sun Also Rises is about a group of British and American expatriates in Paris who go to a lot of restaurants in Paris and drink a lot of wine, then do the same thing in Spain while taking in a bullfight. Okay, that’s not the official tagline, but it’s never been explicitly denied either. The group does live in Paris and go to Pamplona and take in a bullfight. Hemingway buffs, however, talk about the “lost generation” as well as the romance between main characters Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley as if The Sun Also Rises is about the life-changing experiences of this group. It isn’t. Each character is still the same self-loathing person he was before the beginning of the book. There are no earth-shattering revelations from any characters who suddenly brighten and shout “Eureka!” like they suddenly figured out the secret to real happiness.

Frankly, I don’t buy into the idea of this small group being particularly lost, either. They come off as more bored than actually lost. The book begins with an introductory chapter about one of its characters, Robert Cohn. Cohn is a former boxer at Princeton University and a successful writer – both details turn out to be completely inconsequential, by the way - who wants to visit South America and has the means to. Jake Barnes tries to talk him into going but he refuses, and Jake tries to comfort him by telling him that all countries look just like the movies. Cohn can go, but he simply won’t, and he has the nerve to whine about how his life is just passing him by! Why am I being asked to feel sorry for him?

The other characters are no better. Most lack backstories and are very bland to boot. Reading through the book, the reader gets the impression that all of them are successful and if not outright wealthy, then at least very well off. Brett Ashley has a British royal title and at one point she proposes a toast to royalty. They seem to go out to eat or drink wine on every other page, and they can also afford to spend a few weeks in Spain. They’re morally repugnant and spiritually bankrupt and make absolutely no effort to improve themselves throughout the course of the book. Jake Barnes and Brett Ashley are supposed to have some kind of romance, or at least a past romance. They kiss a few times in the beginning, but are otherwise buddy-buddy with each other. Reading through, I never once got the impression that Jake was in love with Brett. In fact, there’s one scene in which Jake stands by with almost complete indifference as Brett gets to know a young bullfighter a little better (wink, wink).

The Sun Also Rises is very dialogue-driven, and that’s one of the biggest problems with it. The dialogue is pretty good to be fair enough, but bad characters can’t be saved by good dialogue. Only one character, Brett Ashley, has remotely any life or color to her and that’s because she’s flamboyant. I don’t mean that in the good way. Ernest Hemingway was a talented writer who described scenery in such a beautiful way that you wished you were there. Unfortunately, that’s all it is – scenery. There’s nothing essential about it. The book is more interesting once the group leaves France and goes to Spain, what with the bullfight and all. It’s still not enough to hide the fact so much of it could take place in an empty room and nothing would be taken away from it. A large chunk of it would still be the same, except the characters wouldn’t have so much access to restaurants and booze.

I have a theory about why The Sun Also Rises is considered a classic: It’s because the literary big shots who decide what’s good and what isn’t couldn’t believe they had just spent eight hours reading such dribble after finishing it. It’s the equivalent of Victorian British literature in which nothing happens. The characters are in France, nothing happens. The characters go to Spain, a bit more happens but it still ultimately builds up to nothing. Maybe they were tricked by Hemingway’s deceptively simplistic writing style. The author doesn’t try to make us say “ooh” and “ah” by using overly long and complicated words and sentences. It wouldn’t be out of reach for a fifth or sixth grader. However, if I was that fifth or sixth grade teacher, I wouldn’t make my students read The Sun Also Rises and waste eight non-refundable hours of their lives which they could have spent in better ways, like watching really bad reality TV shows.


Recommended:
No

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Nicholas Croston ()
Ranked #19
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial.      Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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Wiki

An eightieth anniversary edition of the Nobel Prize-winning classic author's first novel follows the dual story of a wounded war correspondent's hopeless pursuit of an unattainable lady and a band of expatriates' 1920s journey from Paris's Left Bank to the bull fights of Spain. Simultaneous.
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ISBN-13: 978-0743564410
Author: Ernest Hemingway
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Date Published: October 17, 2006

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