Monday 20 December 2010

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Now that it's the holidays and I'm also stuck in bed with a horrible cold/virus, I have plenty of time to read.  I chose A Farewell to Arms because I've never read any Hemingway (or indeed much American literature at all) and because of all his books, the war-time setting of this one appealed to me.

Synopsis: An American in the ambulance service of the Italian army, Henry/Tenete starts to see the darker side of war and soon realises that he doesn't actually know what he is fighting for.  He falls in love with a British nurse, Catherine Barkley, and becomes an army deserter.

Score: 3.5 out of 5

I think my personal reading of this book suffered from the fact that All Quiet on the Western Front is one of my all-time favourite books, and A Farewell to Arms just didn't seem to have as much grit or reality.  It was still a good book, and the reality of war was still portrayed well, but it just lacked an emotional impact to me.

I wasn't familiar with Hemingway's bare and sparse style before reading this novel, and it took me a while to get used to it.  But once I had, I found it refreshing and I liked how some parts were left for the reader to fill in for his/herself.  Hemingway didn't write much about how the characters were feeling, but left that for the reader to work out through actions and dialogue.  Maybe that's why it lacked an emotional punch?

The structure of the book worked very well, with sections about the war broken up by the romance sections.  It was clear that Catherine and Henry were not very well suited, and that the constant threat of death had forced them into an early intimacy.  In fact, Catherine came over as very obsessive and a bit crazy.  She didn't want him to see anyone else (even his friends), she went to bed with him whenever he wanted 'to please him' and even spoke about cutting her hair off so they would look more alike!

Without giving away the ending, I'm sure lots of parallels could be made between what happened in their relationship and the war in general.  Overall the book was surprisingly easy to read (I always worry classics will be a struggle) and a good example of war literature.  But it wasn't as good as I was hoping it would be.


  1. I haven't read Ernest Hemingway since high school, where I was not terribly enthralled, but I did thoroughly enjoy visiting his home in Key West, Florida several years ago. ;)

  2. Yeah. I read this last summer and wasn't too excited about it. I loved All Quiet on the Western Front as well. I guess we're on the same page here.

  3. Have you ever seen the movie City of Angels? It makes me want to like Hemingway more than I do.

    Hope you are feeling better now!

  4. Thanks for stopping by my blog and becoming a follower! I have enjoyed looking around your blog and I am now following you as well! I hope you have a Happy Holiday!

  5. I thought your review was quite insightful and I liked reading it.

  6. I really like Hemingsway's writing!! Great review!! Now a folllower!!

  7. I've read several Hemingway novels now and so far this is the only one I've disliked. :(

  8. I've never read Hemingway before either but I intend to before I feel like I'm missing out on something :) P.S. Love your new blog background!