The Sun Also Rises

This was my first Hemingway novel. Initially, I was a little disappointed because it didn’t seem to be “about anything.” Kind of the literary equivalent of Seinfeld’s proverbial “show about nothing.” The action deals predominantly with a bunch of friends – though seemingly not “close” friends for the most part – none of whom (other than the narrator, Jake) seem to have jobs, idling away their time in post World War I Paris and later Spain, getting drunk and getting into petty arguments and hurting each others’ feelings. But of course there’s more to it than that.

Right away the novel struck a few chords with me. One is a nearly universal wanderlust that I would argue almost everyone experiences at times during life. I, for one, am a “chronic sufferer” of this. It seems I always want to move somewhere else, move on to something different, go on a long trip of discovery; in short, anything to avoid the enemies of routine and staleness. Very early in the book, Robert Cohn exclaims, “All my life I’ve wanted to go on a tip like that,” but will “be too old before I can ever do it.” Sadly, though, Jake crushes our hopes later when he says “Listen, Robert, going to another country doesn’t make any difference. I’ve tried all that. You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another. There’s nothing to that.” I must say I disagree – and hope he’s wrong.

Possibly my favorite parts of the novel, in fact, are the two episodes when Jake “gets away from it all” – once when he goes on a fishing interlude with his friend Bill en route to Pamplona, and then after the dust settles (literally!) from the bullfighting, and he sojourns in San Sebastian. I almost felt like I was on vacation myself when reading those parts. The latter one also seemed to be a respite for the narrator – AND the reader – from the manic scramblings of the group of friends. It was refreshing.

Then there’s The Bullfighting Thing. I confess that I’ve never understood the appeal of the “sport” – and likely still don’t. Especially in recent years the tradition has been increasingly attacked and condemned for its barbaric nature. What this novel gave me more of an appreciation for, however, is that for most it’s not the killing that people love so much as the traditions of the spectacle. We get a brief glimpse into this when learning about those known as “aficionados” which I took to mean “those that get it” and understand the deeper meaning of what’s going on. I remember years ago reading a book about the series of annual chess tournaments in Linares, Spain (for years they were the chess equivalent of Wimbledon in professional tennis) where attending bullfights was a frequent diversion for the grandmasters on their days off. I learned then something of the super-celebrity status of many famous bullfighters – kind of like what we see that Romero is on the eve of in this book – including the legendary Manolete.  Below- a picture of Hemingway himself (white pants; close to bull) in the ring…


Okay, here’s a slightly off-topic digression for you. While reading book two of the novel, a song kept running through my head. It’s by a band that I bet you’ve never heard of, The Judybats from Knoxville, Tennessee. On their 1991 album, “Down in the Shacks Where the Satellite Dishes Grow,” there was a song called “Saturday” that references bullfighting. Here’s a quick sample of lyrics:

He dreams of being a matador
Waving the cape
Killing the killing machine
A hero of the ring he drives his car
His spirits soar his spirits soar

It’s actually a great “undiscovered” CD and band if you’d care to check them out. 🙂

I also really like the book cover of the edition pictured below. It’s so sensational and, like many, is somewhat misleading about the contents of the book. Check out the agony-filled face, the bottle of wine, the gnarled, tortured hands. This is not how I pictured Jake while reading. Then there are the salacious teasers: “Could he live without the power to love?” and “It was a cruel way to be wounded.” Blah blah blah. I guess that’s what moves paperbacks off the shelves, though.

Well, I see I’ve exceeded my recommended blog post length. But what about you? Have you read The Sun Also Rises? What did you think about it and about Hemingway? Which of his novels should I read next? I’d love to hear from you…