I’m going to start by saying something unpopular: this is not my favorite Hemingway. That honor goes to A Moveable Feast.
The Sun Also Rises centers itself around “The Lost Generation,” struggling to orient itself following World War I. A group of Americans and Brits decamp from Paris to Pamplona. Amongst them is Jake Barnes, a journalist and avid watcher of bullfights. His comrades include the suitors of Lady Brett Ashley, with whom Jake has also been romantically entangled. Copious amounts of alcohol and sexual tension drive the narrative and lead to some fairly spectacular rows.
Never having been to Spain, I used mental footage from bits of France and southern Italy. This book is supposed to be about moral bankruptcy and spiritual dissolution. While I suppose that some aspects of that are present in the novel, it seemed to me more that the characters were on vacation and behaving irresponsibility. Adults acting like crazy teenagers.
The bullfights were incredibly descriptive. I was wincing and turning away from the page. And yet, I will definitely read it again. It’s amazing how so few words can convey so much emotion. You feel like you are being pulled into to this social group, dragged from party to party, always slightly tired and hung over it seems. This is Hemingway’s first major novel but he manages it so beautifully. Even now it speaks to lost souls of every generation.
Available from Scribner, $8.00