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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.

ErnestHemingwayIt’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.

An example:

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.

Other Stuff

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.

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47 Comments Post a comment
  1. This is the book that introduced me to the joys of fiction. A college roommate had a copy which I devoured in one sitting. To this day it remains one of my favorites and one of a very few that I have read several times.

    Like

    April 17, 2013
  2. Ryan #

    I would agree that if you don’t like Hemingway then you won’t like this book. However, it is possible that if you don’t like the book then you may still like Hemingway. I was barely above indifferent about this one but really liked The Old Man and the Sea and Farewell to Arms.

    But I suppose my dislike had more to do with characters/story than it did style or composition.

    Like

    April 17, 2013
    • I must read a Farewell To Arms. That’s the one Hemingway I can’t believe I haven’t read.

      Like

      April 17, 2013
  3. I love this book, and I love Hemingway’s style, as you do. This is a good review. One thing to note though, Jake never actually sleeps with Brett. One part of Hemingway’s iceberg (semi-spoiler alert) is that Jake is impotent from the WWI. There is certainly a lot of sexual tension between Brett and Jake, but they never consumate it.

    Like

    April 17, 2013
    • Yeah, I think Jake (and maybe Bill?) were the only ones who didn’t sleep with her.

      Like

      April 17, 2013
  4. And even if you didn’t like Hemingway initially, you may find that you like him in later years. Robert, thanks for all the great posts and insights this past two weeks.

    Like

    April 17, 2013
  5. sally1137 #

    I got hooked on Ernest long ago, and realized that all of his books are ultimately about himself, which is probably why I got hooked. He was a drunken, womanizing jerk. But what a compelling, interesting drunken womanizing jerk.

    Like

    April 17, 2013
    • Absolutely. Not always a great guy, but still compelling.

      Like

      April 17, 2013
  6. juriss99 #

    I just read “The Old Man and the Sea” two days ago and loved it. This might me my next Hemingway book now that I read your review. I love your blog! I’m trying to read a 100 books in a year as well as some Pulitzer Winners so check out my blog if you would like http://livereadandlove.wordpress.com/

    Like

    April 17, 2013
    • Sounds like a great idea. I’ll check it out!

      Like

      April 17, 2013
  7. L’ha ribloggato su .

    Like

    April 17, 2013
  8. I love this book as well … and apparently so did my parents because my middle name is Brett, after this character!

    Like

    April 17, 2013
  9. I’m really not a big fan of Hemingway, but loved this book when I read it (unlikable characters and all) mostly because the end of the book was so brilliant to me….

    “Oh, Jake,” Brett said, “we could have had such a damned good time together.”
    Ahead was a mounted policeman in khaki directing traffic. He raised his baton. The car slowed suddenly pressing Brett against me.
    “Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

    Like

    April 17, 2013
  10. Reblogged this on Rosevoc2's Blog and commented:
    I like Hemingway, super like!

    Like

    April 17, 2013
  11. Matt #

    How good is Hemingway? Well, I don’t like wine or fishing or bullfighting, but when I read TSAR, nothing sounds better than wine or fishing or bullfighting. Yet when I shared TSAR and other Hemingway short stories with my students this year (at an all boy’s school), I was surprised when they overwhelmingly disliked Hemingway.

    Like

    April 17, 2013
  12. Reblogged this on My Day Out With An Angel.

    Like

    April 18, 2013
  13. I like the comparation to Kerouac. He even has a reverence on “The sun also rises” in “On the road” – I guess it’s in the first third of the book, one characeter plans to go fishing in the mountains or something like that. Me, being in my almost-fortys, I sometimes get jealous of these guys being part of such a signifiantly marked generation. That real-life-plot-points. Even though I’m aware that it was massive tragedies.

    Like

    April 18, 2013
  14. It’s amazing how Hemingway can make the most despicable characters still painfully beautiful. I’ve just recently gotten into his novels and I can’t believe it has taken me this long. It’s an addiction that is a good companion to a drinking addiction (not that drinking is a good addiction – Hemingway and drinking somehow just seem to go hand-in-hand).

    Like

    April 18, 2013
  15. I have tried, again, and just can’t get past the first few pages. I will try again some other time. I’m sure this says something about my character. Maybe it’s because I love Faulkner so much.

    Liked by 1 person

    April 18, 2013
    • That makes sense. If you like Faulkner, you almost have to dislike Hemingway, and vice versa. It’s genetic!

      Like

      April 19, 2013
  16. Although it is no secret that I do not esteem Ernest Hemingway, I admit that this is the best of his novels. However, two things: reread it again and try not to think of it as a variation on the theme in Animal House (possibly the most ludicrous thing I have heard in many a year) and remember that Ezra Pound heavily edited Hemingway’s manuscript, creating the much admired terse style Hemingway was so famous for. You really have to read all of Hemingway’s novels to more fully understand the macho drunken homophobic style he represents.

    Like

    April 18, 2013
    • Come on, Mike! This book is a much classier version of Animal House. You said it yourself in the last sentence: Macho, Drunken, Homophobic. That’s Animal House!

      Like

      April 19, 2013
      • I didn’t suggest that The Sun Also Rises was a macho drunken homophobic novel but that Hemingway was a macho drunken homophobic writer. As stated, we could probably allow Ezra Pound to be listed as the co-author of this work but read the rest of Hemingway’s novels and then make a judgment.

        Also I believe I earlier suggested reading Clancy Carlile’s novelistic treatment of Hemingway’s expat period … but don’t be tempted to compare it to The Boys In the Band.

        Like

        April 19, 2013
        • Alistair #

          Ezra Pound as co-author? Have you taken leave of your senses?

          Reducing Hemingway to a hack’s stereotype is dreadfully sloppy of you, not to mention the fact that your assertions don’t bear close examination in the face of a thorough analysis. Makes me wonder if you ever read Hemingway, or perhaps you just consistently missed the point?

          Like

          March 23, 2014
          • Actually, I have read just about everything Hemingway wrote and it might be an inconvenient fact, but Ezra Pound severely edited Hemingway’s early writing and Pound might even be considered the real source of the Hemingway style.

            Like

            March 23, 2014
        • LarBar #

          Don’t forget about Gertrude Stein, Ford Madox Ford and Sherwood Anderson! They all helped the young Hemingway, some of the same people who helped the young Joyce and other famous writers. Because they recognized his gifts. Hemingway did indeed know how to use established authors (as teachers, editors and career-helpers) during his apprenticeship period. But the style he ultimately developed was his – a product of his training and practice, his natural intelligence and his immense artistic talent.

          Like

          January 19, 2016
  17. jamestest1213 #

    This post made me want to read Hemingway. I read Henry Miller’s ‘Tropic of Cancer’ recently and I’ve developed a kind of attachment to Paris since then. I like the way the American authors wrote about the Paris of the time; a kind of romanticized night time cafe-culture city. Anyway, I finished The Sun Also Rises today and I think Hemingway has instantly become one of my favourites. I’ll definitely read more of his work. Thanks for introducing me to such a talented author

    Like

    April 22, 2013
  18. Great blog, although I’m surprised to hear the Animal house references and the nods to the book’s casual debauchery. It’s all fair to say, no doubt, but for me it misses some of the lovely mournful poetry behind all that seeming abandon.

    For me the book has always been infused with a masterful lament and a trauma that echoes beneath the surface of the novel.

    Much as Joe Bunting stated in the comment above, Jake, the central character in the book, has suffered a devastating war injury, one that was so extreme that it rendered him impotent, and required him to be shipped home from the battlefront to recuperate – where he came to meet Brett, his nurse. The two of them fell in love, but have therefore been caught in an impossible cycle of longing and sorrow, wanting to be together, but sabotaged by Jake’s (perhaps just imagined) inability to make love to her – his torment that he feels he is no longer a ‘man’.

    (Indeed, if you want to be really smutty about it – and let’s why not) ‘The Sun Also Rises’ is a bit of a crude double entendre: the other thing that ‘rises’ (or fails to rise) is the thing he’s been obsessing about the whole book: his ‘manhood’.

    Consequentially, the book swells over with an almost obsessive meditation upon manhood and what it takes to remain ‘hard-boiled’ in the face of great emotional trauma and sorrow. Hence Jake’s obsession with those most masculine of men: bullfighters, and his preoccupation with boxing, and fishing, and fighting. He is a character who has been rocked to his very core, and is trying to rebuild an image of himself that he thinks (wrongly) will restore him to himself.

    As for all the drinking and everything: this is just after the first world war. And if you read closely, there are many wounded soldiers and old fighters mentioned throughout. (Again, Jake is a wounded war veteran; Brett is a war nurse whose first husband even died of dysentery). The whole of civilisation is in a kind of numb shock, happy to be alive, but not really sure if they survived. So all the characters are therefore adrift, wandering, unable to lay down roots or commit to anything. They drink and hook up and try to distract themselves from the horror that they have all witnessed while they struggle to recoup what they have lost, in themselves and society.

    Jake can never say all of this in a straightforward manner – this is first-person, ‘I’ narration, and he is someone trying to avoid being too introspective – so instead it all comes out in the imagery Hemingway uses to describe the experience of Paris and Spain: look particularly at the description of the Fiesta in which the town square erupts like a battlefield – bombs going off, tables stripped like ‘battleships’, fireworks exploding like phosphorous…)

    Jake – and all of these characters in fact – are desperately broken, lonely, lost, self-loathing people. Although superficially they look bright and cheery, calling each other ‘Chaps’ and dancing along, beneath it all they are screaming. And Hemingway lets the shadow of that terror and revulsion pass underneath the revelry like a fish beneath the surface of the water (to very poorly bastardise an image from his ‘Old Man and the Sea’), motivating them all, but, like their trauma itself, never demanding that it be acknowledged.

    …Aaaaanyway… that was depressing. Sorry about that.

    I’m glad that you enjoyed the book overall. As you can probably tell, it’s one of my favourites. Thanks again and all the best,

    drayfish

    Like

    April 23, 2013
  19. Reblogged this on perpustakana museum sejarah jakarta.

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    June 2, 2013
  20. frissonsentence #

    What I like most about this novel is its undercurrent; that what I am reading is only the tip of the iceberg. The rest that is implied and intentional left out are the reasons why I go back and re-read this every year.

    Like

    September 18, 2013
  21. torylawyer #

    Every Hemingway fan has their first, and this was mine. Superb novel, but A Farewell to Arms is better, for my money.

    Like

    September 26, 2013
  22. ‘with the simple style masking a lot of complexities going on underneath the surface’ – couldn’t agree more. Throughout his simple (yet not simple) work, he somehow tells us more. unlike the other writers with ravishing styles of writing or simply drop-dead to our eyes, he comes up with something genuine beneath all those hunky-dowdy drinking and wandering lifestyle. I think everyone should read it

    Like

    October 11, 2013
  23. Alistair #

    What a dreadful review. One that has little to no bearing on the work it seeks to diminish by way of the reviewer’s evident lack of sophistication and erudition. Sophomoric at best.

    Like

    March 23, 2014
  24. Count me in: Love Hemingway. Always have, ever since sophomore (10th grade) English. Suggest you delete Alistair’s dreadfully unsophisticated sophomoric review.

    Like

    April 15, 2014
  25. I Just finished reading this. I was dubious about starting it tbh since I’d hated the Old Man and the Sea and shied away from reading any other Hemingway novels since then. However, my old prejudices seem to have been unfounded since it was much much better than that.

    Clearly there are un-savoury aspects to the novel. Read in a particular light it can be viewed as anti-semitic, sexist and homophobic. However, I don’t think we can simply dismiss the book for this. One aspect of the book that I found compelling was the gender reversal’s within the story. Jake is written as somewhat effeminate (aside from his war wound he seems to crave peace, even religion while his compatriots thrive on boorish chaos) while Brett (short hair, promiscuous etc) takes on a more masculine shape.

    I read one reviewer who suggested that the Sun Also Rises is form of morality play, where Jake seeks to live a moral life but fails due to the immorality around him.

    Like

    August 2, 2014
  26. lab77 #

    “The Sun Also Rises” is from Ecclesiastes in the Bible. It refers to the hopeless futility of all earthly pursuits.

    Liked by 1 person

    October 29, 2014
  27. I had a really tough time reading this novel…. and I;m not really sure why. I just don’t think I “got” Hemingway and his writing style. I was immensely bored. The characters unlikeability really got to me. I got SO close to finishing and just gave up. I could’ve cared less how the story ended! Maybe I’m not a fan of Hemingway :\

    Like

    August 7, 2015
  28. Brad #

    As much as I love this blog, I read half this book and could slog on no longer. I really enjoyed his For Whom the Bell Tolls, but this one just seemed to go nowhere. I dislike intensely not being able to finish a book, but this one…I think I’ll put down.

    Like

    September 5, 2015
  29. His prose made me fall in love with reading; I hadn’t been interested until I was almost 24 years of age, but after reading my first Hemingway, I was hooked. I love that you’re such a Hemingway fan, as am I,but your comparison to Kerouac made sick me to my stomach. Their writing styles share no similarities, and are light years apart in significance and grace. Other than the aforementioned, great review!

    Like

    September 14, 2015
  30. Interesting review and I agree: you either love or hate Hemingway’s writing. Although I can see your point, I really hated this novel: http://www.mytwostotinki.com/?p=602

    Like

    November 25, 2015
  31. Jennie Campbell #

    What other things in the book do you believe show the trueness of the iceberg theory? Wonderful book

    Like

    April 9, 2017

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