I was going to do something really naughty. I read this book years ago in High School and wasn't particularly impressed namely because my English teacher and I never saw eye to eye; I preferred fantasy books to modern literature; and as far as I was concerned this was simply about a guy who got into a boat, caught a fish, and then went home again. Seriously, I thought to myself, how boring and pointless can you get. There were no evil magicians, no hulking barbarians, and no dragons. So I was going to give this book one star, tell everybody how much I hated it, and then move on to my next review.
I'm glad I didn't.
You see, I ended up picking up another Hemmingway book a couple of years ago – Fiesta and as I was reading it I discovered that I really liked it. As such I decided to hold off writing a review of this book until I got around to reading it again just so that I could justify giving it a one. I also remember sitting in a cafe after church (though we weren't doing a Hemmingway – I'm sure they wouldn't have been to impressed if I was getting drunk, and anyway I had to go to work in the morning) talking about Hemmingway and this book in particular. As was typical of me I was slagging it off. However one of my friends went home, read it that night, and then posted on Facebook in the morning about how wonderful it was. I simply shook my head and went on with my daily activities.
Well, I have now read it again and I must humbly apologise for slagging this book off because it wasn't what I remembered. Okay, it is about an old guy that goes out fishing and hooks a really, really big fish, and then struggles with it for I don't know how long before he kills it, and then goes home again. However that is where the catch lies. He's stuck somewhere out in the middle of the Sargasso Sea with this whopping great big fish and no way to actually get it on to his boat. Three guesses what happens on the way home.
As I was reading this book I said to myself that I am not at all surprised that Hemmingway wrote a book about a guy that went fishing considering he was an avid fisherman himself. Okay, he may not have been a subsistent fisherman, and probably had a much bigger boat and much better equipment than this guy, but his love of fishing does come out in the story. You can also tell that he knows what he is talking about.
I've done a bit of fishing myself. I'm not really all that good, and it's not one of those hobbies that I take every chance I have to go and do, though spending time with friends is pretty cool. I've even managed to catch a fish:
Mind you, it wasn't all that much of a challenge considering we went fishing down by the Torrens River in Adelaide, and that river is teaming with fish. Sure, it may be easy to catch a fish down there but there are a couple of problems: you can't eat the fish and you can't throw them back. So what you basically do is catch the fish, kill it, and then throw it in the bin afterwards. At least I can now say that I have caught a decent sized fish (though not the size that the old man managed to catch).
There is one thing that struck me about the book (and sorry about the spoiler) and that is what happened to the old man as he attempted to get back to Havana with the fish. It sort of reminded me of how many of us go out and work really hard for a reward, and when we get this reward but it just seems to get whittled down to nothing by the many sharks in our society that seem to only exist to suck us dry. In a way we pretty much have to pay for everything, and sharks always seem to come out of the woodwork to take our hard earned cash: whether it be the government, the landlord, the banks, the utilities, the supermarkets, and the insurance companies. In the end, after all of our expenses have been paid we, like the old man, look down and what we have and discover that there is nothing left.
Mind you, I doubt Hemmingway was writing some socialist text, but then again who knows.