The quintessential novel of the Lost Generation, The Sun Also Rises is one of Ernest Hemingway’s masterpieces and a classic example of his spare but powerful writing style. A poignant look at the disillusionment and angst of the post-World War I generation, the novel introduces two of Hemingway’s most unforgettable characters: Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley. The story follows the flamboyant Brett and the hapless Jake as they journey from the wild nightlife of 1920s Paris to the brutal bullfighting rings of Spain with a motley group of expatriates. It is an age of moral bankruptcy, spiritual dissolution, unrealized love, and vanishing illusions. First published in 1926, The Sun Also Rises helped to establish Hemingway as one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century.
Executive Summary: where’s this going? (answer: no where)
Last year for book club, we read The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. The Paris Wife is a historical fiction novel from the point of view of Hadley, Hemingway’s first wife. So the story line from that book coincides with the story line of The Sun Also Rises which is why we chose it as our classic for this year. (Side note: The Paris Wife was a really great read.)
The Sun Also Rises is a roman à clef, which apparently is the term for a story based on real people and real events but using fake names. (The more you know.) This makes it a little more challenging to review because it isn’t like there is a overused plot point or an event that wraps up too quickly or easily. You’re basically just judging the people themselves, which essentially is just gossip. 🙂
In The Paris Wife, Hadley is upset because although she was present for all the events written about in The Sun Also Rises, she wasn’t included as a character in the book. At the time, I agreed with her, but after reading TSAR, I didn’t. The story was very much a “man’s book” (aka a story about a man and his friends and the things they find interesting like ladies and fishing and bull fighting and booze). And I think that having a married main character would have detracted from that. (It begs the question of whether it should have been a man’s book when the author was indeed married but that’s a different question for a different day.)
The story follows Jake (Hemingway), his childhood friend Bill (his real name), the Lady Brett Ashley (Duff Twysden), her fiance Mike Campbell (Pat Guthrie) and their “friend” Robert Cohn (Harold Loeb) throughout their lives in Paris and their trip to Spain to see the spectacle of the fiesta in 1926. The general “plot” of the book, if you could really say there is one, is that everyone is in love with Lady Ashley. Lady Ashley, recently divorced, visits Jake while in Paris with her “friend” Count Mippipopolous. Jake and Brett love each other but it won’t work (presumably because he’s impotent?). They travel to Pampalona (by way of a fishing trip to Bayonne) to enjoy the fiesta. There they find out that Brett and Robert went on a romantic getaway together which meant nothing to Brett but Robert doesn’t get the picture and follows her and Mike around like a lost puppy the entire book. At the fiesta, Jake introduces Brett to Romero, the beloved matador, and she begins a relationship with him too. Cohn, a boxer in college, fights with just about all of the characters, and Brett leaves Romero and returns to Mike in the end.
Apparently the main theme of the book is supposed to be about this “Lost Generation” of post-WW1 veterans and general young people at the time (I believe that only Jake/Hemingway was a veteran.) With the privilege of time backing me up, I think that term is hilarious. This “Lost Generation” is now referred to as “the Golden Generation”!!! Believe me, I am sympathetic to those who went through the great depression, but this book was written pre-that. It’s hard for me to get all misty eyed about a bunch of people having such a rough life but yet they are able to gallivant around Europe traveling and boozing all the while only one of them seems to have a “real job”. Uh huh, like that would be feasible today.
On the flip side though, I think a lot of the characters are themselves sympathetic. And in many ways, they seem just like modern characters. I know a lot of Brett Ashleys–the girls who can’t love anyone including themselves. I know the Robert Cohns who sing the sad song about how “nice guys finish last” when everyone can see they only pick the girls who prey on the nice guys. I know Bill, and I have even have the same experience with the hilariousness of giving someone a stuffed dog (in this case lynx). These characters are familiar, and I think in many ways that keeps the story modern. (Although it does make me a bit sad that people haven’t really changed in 100 years.)
I also wonder if at the time the stories about the fiesta were less well known in 1926. Although I do not personally know anyone who has gone (I will after this upcoming year!), I’m familiar with the idea and I have known about it since as long as I can remember. However, I’m sure if I had never heard of it, I would find the story about it much more fascinating. However, the similarity between Jake reading/talking/researching about the various matadors had a very similar feel to the way the modern male population buzzes about college football/NFL/MLB/<insert some sport here>. I guess some things never change. Perhaps the lost generation is not so much a “generation”, and more just a rite of passage.
3 stars. Honestly, thank goodness for Bill. He was the only character I found I could relate to and enjoy. He seemed more grounded than the rest and really was kind of the “glue” of the characters in the book. I’ve only read one other Hemingway (The Old Man and the Sea) and from what I remember, it was more of the same. A “man’s book” that just never really went anywhere. While I didn’t love it, I also didn’t despise it. I just don’t think I will go out of my way to read any more of Hemingway’s books on my own.