My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Whatever the blurbs or critics might say, this book is about the raft of men left in the friend-zone after brief dalliances with Lady Brett Ashley. One may have been led to believe it’s about the life of Jake Barnes. Barnes is the lead character, but he’s not the most influential character.
Besides Barnes, the list of men who fall hard for Lady Brett Ashley include, boxer Robert Cohn, the bankrupt Michael Campbell, and the bullfighter Pedro Romero. Oddly enough, the physically toughest, Cohn, is the one who falls the hardest. Barnes may be the strongest in this sense; perhaps because his relationship with Ashley is over before the novel begins. Barnes comes off as likable with a pragmatic “live and let live” nature. (He can maintain a friendship with a woman that he loves, a feat that seems beyond Cohn’s ability. Campbell is used to having lost everything, and so seems to bob comfortably in Ashley’s wake. We don’t reliably learn about how Romero takes it.)
As the blurb says, The Sun Also Rises is about a journey from Paris to Pamplona. In Paris, the cast of Lost Generation friends hang out in cafés. In Pamplona they attend bullfights. In between, Barnes goes fishing with friends.
In a broader sense, the book is about dissatisfaction and restlessness, and not only within Ashley. This is summed up nicely by Cohn’s words to Jake, “Don’t you ever get the feeling that all your life is going by and you’re not taking advantage of it?”
Of course, the book shines in its language. Hemingway’s lean buy meaty prose is readable and engrossing. The minimalist dialogue beautifully conveys the interaction of a group of intimate friends.
Here’s a great line that captures the character of Hemingway’s writing in this book, “The beer was not good and I had a worse cognac to take the taste out of my mouth.”
The book rises to crescendo with the Pamplona bullfights and Hemingway adeptly ends on a sad note apropos of the morning after a great party.