The Sun Also Rises

FROM THE PUBLISHER Published in 1926 to explosive acclaim, The Sun Also Rises stands as perhaps the most impressive first novel ever written by an American writer…the novel captured for the generation that would come to be called "Lost" the spirit of its age, and marked Ernest Hemingway as the preeminent writer of his time.

I must be honest. If Hemingway wasn't such a respected writer, I probably would have given up on The Sun Also Rises after the first few chapters. Which would have been a shame, because about halfway through, when the main characters finally reach Pamplona and the sometimes-unpleasant-but-always-interesting Mike arrives, I was hooked. Couldn't put it down (or, in this case, turn it off, since I listened to the audio version, while driving to and from work).

I'm not sure why the first half bored me. For whatever reason, I didn't care about the characters and didn't "inhale the experience," as Azar Nafisi writes in Reading Lolita. "A novel is not an allegory," she says, "it is the sensual experience of another world. If you don’t enter that world, hold your breath with the characters and become involved in their destiny, you won't be able to empathize, and empathy is at the heart of the novel."

As I said, Mike and the fiesta finally drew me into Hemingway's world. Something else that helped—visualizing Lady Brett Ashley as played by Audrey Hepburn (think Breakfast at Tiffany’s). Ava Gardner played the role in the 1957 film version of The Sun Also Rises. But, for me, Audrey brought Brett to life.

The main character, Jake, however, eluded me throughout the book. Just yesterday, though, I came across this on Sparknotes: "As a soldier in World War I, Jake is wounded. Although he does not say so directly, there are numerous moments in the novel when he implies that, as a result of his injury, he has lost the ability to have sex. Jake's narration is characterized by subtlety and implication. He prefers to hint at things rather than state them outright, especially when they concern the war or his injury. Early in the novel, for example one must read the text very closely to grasp the true nature of Jake's wound; it is only later, when Jake goes fishing with Bill, that he speaks more openly about his impotence."

Well. I missed that completely. Must have been navigating rush hour traffic during the fishing scene. If I'd known that about Jake, it might have helped me empathize with him more. Poor guy.

Impotence, Hepburn, and inhaling aside—once I did become involved in the story, I could see why so many sing its praises. I'm glad I kept reading.


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