I bought two books last week.
The first one was A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. Somewhere recently in my wanderings around the blogosphere I'd stumbled on a review of the book on one of Maxine's many blogs and it made me wonder why I'd never read the book. Forty years ago when I was still at school I was addicted to Hemingway but I stopped reading him, mainly, I guess, for two reasons. Firstly, I felt I was being somewhat disloyal to my great hero (and Hemingway's occasional friend) Scott Fitzgerald. Hemingway's reputation at that time was huge and growing. Fitzgerald, while popular, was somewhat in decline. I knew Hemingway was good, but not that good. To tell the truth I hadn't really enjoyed the last two books of his that I had read: For Whom The Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea. The latter, in fact, I rather disliked. It seemed contrived and stagey. False, even.
But the real reason I stopped reading Papa was that his style was so infectious, like typhoid. Short sentences. Short paragraphs. Vigorous. Masculine. And frequently portentous. You couldn't read Hemingway and not write like him. Or at least a feeble parody. That voice was so hard to get out of your head. Fatal for a young writer.
Fortunately the voice is subdued in A Moveable Feast, barely a whisper in fact. It's an interesting memoir of his time in Paris as a penniless writer in the Twenties. It's well-written and atmospheric. It's plain how much his art - especially the search for truth - means to him. That search - about which he wrote extensively over the years - was the one that inspired me as a young man. As a writer he was a powerful role model, someone to look up to. As a person, less so. In the book he's kind and generous in his portrayal of Fitzgerald and praises The Great Gatsby highly which I found rather touching. Especially since he had long before fallen out with Fitzgerald big time.
I read A Farewell To Arms again a couple of years ago and I thought it stood up pretty well. Very well in fact. Indeed, I'd say it was one of the great novels of the twentieth century. Despite his apparent bravado and manliness Hemingway suffered terribly from depression. He died at the age of sixty-one on July 2, 1961 in Ketchum, Idaho when he blew his brains out with a shotgun. Reading about it at the time it seemed a shocking ending to an extraordinary career.