BOOK REVIEW: A FAREWELL TO ARMS – ERNEST HEMINGWAY

This is the first book I have read written by Hemingway. I decided to start with this particular piece because it is widely regarded as the one that  put this Nobel Prize winner on the literary map.

Published in 1929 the novel is about an American ‘Tenente’ (tenente being the Italian equivalent of Lieutenant) who endures and absconds the first World War. The title of the book serves as an artistic dual depiction of a soldier’s loss; arms of a woman and fire-arms. The plot is very simple but not so predictable; a soldier falls in love with a woman, loses faith in the war he is fighting and deserts the army to be with his lover.

The literary style is also simple; short sentences, limited vocabulary, short paragraphs and first-person narration. In fact it is Hemingway’s literary style that set him apart from his contemporaries especially James Joyce. Hemingway belonged to the ‘Beat Generation’ who adopted the simplistic prose which was at that time a new genre of literature. James Joyce on the other hand adopted the steam-of-consciousness style which was also revolutionary. It is safe to say most of today’s novelists make use of Hemingway’s literary style.

I could not help but notice the striking resemblance of the book’s protagonist with the author himself. Both served in the Italian army as ambulance drivers, both had an intimate relationship with alcohol and so forth. I have since learnt that this was in fact a conscious pattern which the author followed throughout his career.

I have only one problem with the book; the romance was downright childish. I found the romantic aspect of the book as a nonsensical distraction. The dialogue between the lieutenant and his lover, Catherine, was devoid of any depth or versatility. It sounded like this; ‘I love you’ and ‘I love you too’ – over and over and over again and nothing more. In my opinion the book would have been a much better read without the romantic aspect.

In conclusion I would say this is a book written by a respected author which can only pique the interest of those who know more about the author than his work. In other words if this book was to be published today it would just pass under the radar. However if one were to read the book with the preconceived perception of its significance in the history of literature then they would understand why Hemingway is the legend that he is.

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