I suspect that Hemmingway is what one would call an acquired taste. He is sort of like vegemite – you start off absolutely hating it but one day you decide to spread it on your toast and suddenly discover that you actually quite like it and you end up not being able to get enough of it (as you can probably tell, I have recently acquired a taste for vegemite):
Anyway, I remember one time that I was sitting around a table with some friends in a cafe (and no, we were not getting drunk) talking about Hemmingway (I wonder if when he was in Paris Hemmingway would sit with friends in a cafe talking about Hemmingway – I do know that he was in Paris and he did sit in cafes, but that was usually to get drunk – which is why somebody described this book as an autobiography). Anyway, we were talking about Hemmingway and I was loudly proclaiming that I really did not like his work because he was boring and pointless – the book I was referring to was an Old Man and the Sea, which is about a guy who goes out in a boat and catches a fish, and then goes home.
However, there was one woman who was vigorously defending him, and one of the others then went home, got his hands on a copy of Old Man and the Sea, read it, and the very next day, splashed all over Facebook, were these praises of Ernest Hemmingway. Needless to say that guy was not me.
However, and I don't know what caused me to do it, I found myself in a book shop picking up a copy of A Farewell to Arms, and then, when I was in Bangkok, I found myself reading it. However, I ended up losing it (and I will leave it up to your imagination as to how I lost it, because I'm not saying anything). Then one of the groups on Goodreads decided to make For Whom the Bell Tolls the book of the month and I said to myself 'gee, that sounds like a Metallica song' and decided that I would read it (and you can read my commentary on that particular book here - or at least where I have linked it). As it turns out, the Metallica song is actually based on the book.
Now, another book club decided to read this particular book, and I though, 'yeah, I might give this one a go' and decided that I would read it, and then go to the book club and see what people have to say about it. Anyway, as I was reading it I noticed a couple of things about this book:
- 1) Nothing happens.
- 2) When something does happen it usually involves people sitting in a cafe getting drunk. In fact, somebody actually suggested that pretty much all of Hemmingway's books involve people sitting in cafes getting drunk. Maybe that was because that was what Hemmingway himself would spend most of his time doing.
However, just like Vegemite, this particular book really began to grow on me, and not only did I enjoy Hemmingway's writing style, but also the fact that through all 216 pages of this book pretty much nothing happens and nobody really does anything. Okay, they go to Pamplona and yes, the do watch the running of the bulls (you can't have a scene set in Pamplona without the running of the bulls, or bull fights).
It is interesting that Hemmingway does explain background to the tradition: it came about because the bulls were unloaded from the trucks at the edge of town and then sent through the streets to the bull fighting ring, and I guess the tradition to run with them sort of arose from that. It is one of those funny events that while the whole festival pretty much revolves around being cruel to animals, and the animal rights protesters get up in arms about it, there are many others that believe by getting rid of the running of the bulls would be to destroy an age old tradition. It is as if people say 'yeah, it is bad to be cruel to animals, but come on, running through the streets of Pamplona with a bunch of bulls chasing you is kind of fun so, well, let's not worry about that'.
Well, I seemed to have waffled on a lot about nothing once again, but I guess talking about nothing is pretty much what this book is about, and in a way Hemmingway is a master of writing about absolutely nothing. However, like vegemite, you can really only take him in small doses. I don't think I could really handle any more books by Hemmingway that are pretty much like this, and I don't think I could handle a book that is much longer than this which is about, well nothing. That is why I pretty much gave up on the works of Robert Jordan.