Book #55: The Sun Also Rises
If I had to describe The Sun Also Rises in one sentence, I’d probably say something like “Imagine a European, classier version of the movie Animal House, and you’ve got The Sun Also Rises.”
I think that’s fairly accurate.
The book details the adventures of several American ex-pats who travel from Paris to Pamplona to see the running of the bulls, watch bull fights, drink enormous amounts of alcohol, and engage in casual sex.
In addition to Animal House, the novel reminds me a little of a European version of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. And that’s actually a little strange because Hemingway and Kerouac couldn’t have more polar opposite writing styles.
It’s just a lot of care-free twenty-somethings traveling around, meeting new people, and “living the life.”
The novel is broken up into three books. The first book is about the group’s life in high-society Paris of the 1920s, with their frequent patronage of the café scene.
The second book covers the group’s time in Pamplona, Spain at the week-long fiesta, bullfighting, and running of the bulls, as well as a brief fishing trip on their way. This is where things get mostly out of hand.
Finally, the third book covers the aftermath of the fiesta, with everyone returning home, still in love with Brett, and settling back into their seemingly miserable lives.
The Sun Also Rises is a roman a clef, meaning it’s based on real people and a real events—a “true story” so to speak, with the names changed of course.
Jake Barnes, the protagonist, is in love with Lady Brett Ashley (referred to as “Brett” throughout the novel). Barnes is impotent from an injury in World War 1, and he gets manipulated a lot by Brett, who is engaged to Mike Campbell, another main character from the novel.
Though Jake is the protagonist, the novel seems to center on Brett—who embodies the free-spirited female of the 1920s. She sleeps around on Mike, with Jake and with other men, including Robert Cohn, a guy no one likes, and a 19-year-old bullfighter named Pedro Romero.
In sum, the whole book is about different men trying to sleep with Brett. And alcohol. Lots of alcohol. Everyone in this book drinks, and drinks a lot. In that sense, it certainly has Hemingway’s stamp on it.
In one scene, Jake and Bill (or was it Mike?) drink four bottles of wine at breakfast. At breakfast! Good Lord.
It’s easy to take Mama Hemingway’s thought process and say the story is nothing but a tale of debauchery. Really, though, it’s just reflective of the time period—that era after World War 1 when twenty-somethings were coming home and trying to find their way—some of them by traveling elsewhere.
The characters aren’t that likeable and are totally self-absorbed, but that didn’t detract me from enjoying the story. The story is strong, fast-paced, and easy-to-read.
As you might know by now, I love Ernest Hemingway’s style, and The Sun Also Rises is arguably his best novel that incorporates his “iceberg theory.” Short, sweet, and to the point, with the simple style masking a lot of complexities going on underneath the surface.
Not everyone likes it, like the William Faulkners of the world, but I love his style.
In bull-fighting they speak of the terrain of the bull and the terrain of the bull-fighter. As long as a bull-fighter stays in his own terrain he is comparatively safe. Each time he enters into the terrain of the bull he is in great danger. Belmonte, in his best days, worked always in the terrain of the bull. This way he gave the sensation of coming tragedy.
Not only that, but I love how Hemingway writes dialogue. It’s quick, almost to the point of being choppy. It’s easy on the eyes to read.
This is the example I used in the post about how suited Hemingway’s style is for web writing:
“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.
“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”
“What brought it on?”
“Friends,” said Mike. “I had a lot of friends. False friends. Then I had creditors, too. Probably had more creditors than anybody in England.”
“Tell them about in the court,” Brett said.
“I don’t remember,” Mike said. “I was just a little tight.”
“Tight!” Brett exclaimed. “You were blind!”
“Extraordinary thing,” Mike said. “Met my former partner the other day. Offered to buy me a drink.”
“Tell them about your learned counsel,” Brett said.
“I will not,” Mike said. “My learned counsel was blind, too. I say this is a gloomy subject. Are we going down and see this bulls unloaded or not?”
“Let’s go down.”
In all, I’m a fan of The Sun Also Rises. The book has a certain spirit to it, a certain nostalgia that feels really representative of that period of time.
The story is good, but Hemingway is so much better. I just love Hemingway. I’m an unabashed Hemingwayite. That’s all I can say.
The Opening Line: “Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton. Do not think that I am very much impressed by that as a boxing title, but it meant a lot to Cohn.”
The Meaning: I think, despite the book’s depressing tone, the title “The Sun Also Rises” conveys a positive mood. The book is about cycles—Brett’s begins an affair and ends an affair. An old bullfighter ends his career while a new bullfighter begins his. The fiesta, the running of the bulls, begins and it ends. Despite all of these endings, there’s always another beginning—there’s always hope for tomorrow, and I think that’s what The Sun Also Rises is ultimately about.
Highlights: Hemingway. Hemingway. Hemingway. I love the man’s style. He could write about boring bullfighting—wait a minute, he did write about boring bullfighting—and make it interesting. The beauty of Hemingway’s writing is in its simplicity—and a lot of critics think The Sun Also Rises was Hemingway at his best.
Lowlights: I can’t really think of a lowlight. All of the characters were unlikeable, but that’s not a lowlight…that’s just good writing and character description. I got nothing here. But I’m sure all the Hemingway haters out there can fill me in on all the terrible things about this novel and his style.
Memorable Line: “You are all a lost generation.” (From the epigraph)
Final Thoughts: If Hemingway was still alive today, I’d probably have posters of him on my wall. I’d be the equivalent of a Twilight fan with my obsession over Hemingway. Okay, not that intense. Maybe. Anyway, I loved this guy’s style. Therefore, I loved this book. If you don’t like Hemingway, you won’t like The Sun Also Rises. And vice versa. Great book from one of the great authors who walked the planet.