Tuesday, 12 November 2013

On reading Hemingway

At the beginning of A Moveable Feast, Hemingway reassures himself,
"Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. 
All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know."

This isn't the first time that I have found inspiration in Hemingway's words, nor will it be the last, but today this passage seemed to jump off the page and slap me around the head. As some of you know, I'm currently half way through my second novel, which is frightening and exhilarating all at once, and I took reassurance from these words.

I first read Ernest Hemingway, a much loved American author, when I was sixteen or seventeen. Reading A Farewell to Arms was no more than continuing that pretentious teenage thing of reading all the classic books you can, merely to say you've read them and to seem well read amongst your friends. The only good things about this annoying teenage habit is that a) you do actually become well read and b) you sometimes stumble across an author you will love. And so it was for me.

Hemingway has this wonderful succinct, clipped way of writing. Writing to the point, as one might think, speaking gloriously of drinking and far off places, and of women, love and sport. He was a man's man - brimming with machismo and physicality. Gun-wielding sportsman, fisherman, soldier, lover, traveller, heavy drinker - he lived fully. Machismo is something nowadays we mostly eschew; the dominating male is not something to necessarily be admired, but with him, I secretly love it. Much has been said about Hemingway, much has been studied, and many opinions have been shared, and they are all available on the Internet for you mull over later on.

After reading that first novel, I devoured his collections of short stories and very slowly began working my way through his other novels. Whenever I come to a story of Hemingway's, if I've read it before or not, I am always immensely pleased at how much I enjoy the sheer beauty of his writing. Often I stop reading and gaze into space, thinking about what I've just read. He does that - makes you think, which is why I love his stories. They are so...human. I find them so inspiring, and it usually isn't long before I've put pen to paper again myself, waxing lyrical with eagerness.

He writes about places that I've had the good fortune to have visited - bull rings and mountains in Spain, canals in Venice, the Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris. But he also writes of places I dream about, such as Africa. I think my favourite story, if I were to pin one down and say, "Yes, definitely this is the one you must read if you can," would be The Sun Also Rises.

Whether writing about sport, love, the harsh reality of relationships of men and women, or death (in the afternoon or otherwise...), Hemingway draws his reader in, and he does it so brilliantly with dialogue! You begin to think about things more and wonder at the curious nature of it all.

I once became so involved in For Whom the Bell Tolls that at the end of it, when the outcome was so sad and frustrating, I went off in a huff for nearly an hour, grumbling I'd never read Ernest bloody Hemingway again. Poor Robert Jordan: after 500 pages, and then...well, the point is, Hemingway's writing makes one think, feel, and leaves one pensive.

The only other author that is positively irritating like that - you know, offing characters after a million pages of invested interest, is D.H. Lawrence, the other great literary love of my life. His writing too, is distinctly human - the thought process is so interesting, and seeing it written down in prose is wonderful. Moving an entire story along through this medium: brilliant.
James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ford Madox Ford too, in my opinion, all use this way of writing - it make me wiggle my shoulders in delight, snuggling deeper into my chair and switching the brain On. Interestingly enough, they were all in Paris at the same time during the early '20s and were mates.

In this latest novel that I was reading of Hemingway's, A Moveable Feast, he writes about his time in Paris with his first wife when he was 25, fairly successful as a journalist, but struggling as a writer of novels. What I particularly like, is firstly that I can relate, being the same age and filling pages; but secondly that he talks about these other writers and artists that he knew then. His descriptions of these men and women allow us a look at the other, more intimate side of our favourite authors. Rather like looking through a small window at what life might have been like for these people, this génération perdue. 

I could go on and on for ages ("Why, you already have!" I hear you say) about Hemingway and my favourite stories of his. I can't really express myself eloquently about how much I admire his writing, but I suspect what I really wish to share is how delightful rediscovering and reconnecting with a favourite author can be. If you get a chance to read Papa Hemingway, short story or novel, translated or in English, please, please do. I rather think he's got something for everyone...