Genre: Fiction (Classic)
Year Published: 1926
"Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton."
I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, having recently finished On the Road, it was almost torturous to endure another book about a narcissistic, self-centered group of 'friends' getting drunk all the time. On the other, I did find myself caught up in the romance between Lady Ashley and Jake, and almost feel a warmness for them. And I really liked the ending.
The story takes place in Europe not long after the first World War. Jake is a writer living in Paris, and he and several of his friends, including his on-again off-again lover, Brett Ashley, decide to go to Spain for the Running of the Bulls. Then they get drunk, do some fishing, get drunk, watch some bullfights, get drunk, get mad at one another, get drunk, fight each other, get drunk, find out Brett has left with a young bullfighter, get drunk again, wake up and leave town. That is pretty much the entire plot. What holds the book together is the characters and their relationships to one another. Robert Cohn is a friend of Jake's who has also had an affair with Brett (pretty much everyone has, actually. Brett was quite the afficionado of men), and who follows her around like a lost puppy even though she is with her fiancee. Her fiancee acts like he's fine with her affairs when he's sober, then gets nasty about it when drunk. Brett seems to feel some sort of remorse about her loving and leaving these guys, but not enough to stop her from continuing to do so. She does seem to love Jake, but again, not enough to stop her from continuing to do so. Jake loves Brett but knows that he can't have her on any other terms, so he accepts this way even though it bothers him.
I have to say the anti-semitism weaving through this book bothered me. I have never been bothered by this before when reading a book, so I'm not sure what was different about this one, but every time someone referred to Cohn as "that Jew" or the "kike" it irked me. I did like Lady Ashley--it seemed almost feminist to have a female carry out the "playa" role. Even though she's a real jerk to those poor guys.
I get that the book is meant to represent the post-WWI generation, the loss of innocence, etc. But as far as I'm concerned, the best thing about this book is how it ends. It's a lovely ending, and it manages to sum everything up in an almost whimsical moment. But I certainly can't say that this was one of my favorite reads this year. In fact, I can't really say that I like Hemingway much at all.
Book a week #: 60
Challenge/s: Decades; Modern Library; 1% Well Read
Date Read: 12/14/09
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