Continuing my readings in “Great Novels” I next picked up Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms. I had previously read Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea in high school but that was it.
I must say I was quite surprised by this book. It was not what I expected at all. I am not sure what I expected but it wasn’t the rough yet sensitive and psychological work tha I encountered.
The story – based on Hemingway’s own expreiences – is set in World War I Italy. It centers on an American (Lieutenant Henry) serving in the Italian ambulance corps and his relationship with a British nurse (Catherine Barkley). It details his adventures – from getting wounded to going AWOL during a retreat and escaping to Switzerland – and deepening love affair with Catherine and in doing so serves as portarit of the ugliness of war.
While I found the story interesting and engaging, I was surprised by the writing style. It seemed to me rather hard and direct at times and yet melancholy and flowery at others. It seemd to be literally the “stream of consciousness” of the lead character and reflected at times the awkwardness of living in another country where one’s language is at best secondary. The characters were interesting and seemed highly realistic – aided no doubt by Hemingway’s personal knowledge – but the real focus was the dialogue between Henry and Catherine. The contrast was constantly being drawn between the power and beauty of love and the uglineess and violence of life in wartime. The novle is full of cynical and melanchol asides about how life “kills” and “destroys” those with any courage or character. And the ending is as dark and synical as they come.
All in all, I enjoyed the book and found the story comelling despite its dark and tortured nature. I can’t say that Hemingway has become my favorite author but I am glad I have a wider perspective of his writing.