The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway

August 5, 2012

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

An old fisherman has been eighty-four days at sea without catching anything.    He is said to be unlucky, and the boy that was apprenticed to him has been assigned to another boat.  Still, on the eighty-fifth day, he rises, as always, before dawn, rows out into the open ocean, drops his precisely weighted lines, and waits.  The sun climbs high into the sky and he catches only bait.

Then, around noon, his line is taken by a great fish.  As the battle stretches over days and nights, it becomes clear that it will claim one of their lives, for the man must fight not just with the marlin, but with his fatigue, hunger, thirst, and his old body.

The Old Man and the Sea was a return to form for the aging Hemingway, and it won him the Nobel Prize.  The story is so simple that it can be taken as an allegory for many things: writing, the creative process, life’s struggles.  The picture presented is bleak but uplifting.

The old man, Santiago, is a hero, strong, focused and fearless, the personification of the author’s quasi-religious views on masculinity.  He is also simple and humble, in contrast to Hemingway’s earlier hard-drinking, hard-living protagonists.

A beautiful, small book that typifies the iceberg method, of something written truly being able to stand for many things.  Recommended.


Tender is the Night – F. Scott Fitzgerald (Part 1)

June 12, 2012

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Chapters I-XVI


I was very excited to read this, my first Fitzgerald.  A contemporary of Hemingway’s, loved by Murakami, a big name in twentieth century literature.  Plus, I was in Nice at the time, and there aren’t many things I love more than reading a book set in the same exotic locale I’m travelling.

From the first page, there’s no doubt the man can write.  His greatest strengths are his descriptions of characters and social situation, achieved by an unflinching grasp of human nature and an ability to communicate emotions and tensions in a clear, palpable manner.

He’s one of those authors who throw about bold truisms and judgements.  Many writers who use this style make assertions that don’t hold up to reflection, but most of the time Fitzgerld rings true.

But what the hell is he writing about?  The first time I read The Sun Also Rises, I missed the sub-text and though it was just about the idle, hedonistic elite.  Tender is the Night seems to just be about the idle, hedonistic elite.

Fourteen chapters in, and all that’s happened is a naïve, romantic seventeen year old starlet, Rosemary, has fallen in love with a married man, Dick Diver, and been sucked in to his proto-hipster lost generation clique.  Give me something, Scott…


And then you have a chapter like chapter fifteen where Fitzgerald’s insight into the core of people is on full display, when the romance reaches its climax and Rosemary suddenly becomes interesting as she is shown to be both naïve and calculated without any contradiction.

Indian Camp – Ernest Hemingway

January 21, 2012

Describe it

The first Nick Adams short story from In Our Time, in which Nick’s father, a doctor, takes him to an Indian camp to see a complicated birth.  Described by one critic as the “master key” to Hemingway’s writing.

What I loved

It all rings true.  One of my favourite Hemingway quotes from The Green Hills of Africa goes:

“First, there must be talent, much talent. Talent such as Kipling had. Then there must be discipline. The discipline of Flaubert. Then there must be the conception of what it can be and absolute conscience as unchanging as the standard meter in Paris, to prevent faking. Then the writer must be intelligent and disinterested and above all he must survive.”

Perhaps the most striking word in this quote is “disinterested”, which seems a strange trait to encourage in writers.  By this, I believe that Hemingway meant that a good writer must have the ability to take a step back and observe life, dispassionately, unblinkered by dogma or fear, never turning away from notions that society deems unacceptable.

In Indian Camp, Hemingway’s commitment to truthfulness can be seen in his exploration of masculinity, one of his chief preoccupations.  Read the rest of this entry »

Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway [Round 2!]

December 15, 2011

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Describe it

In its story of the idle, hedonistic elite, it expresses the anxieties of the modern age – the passing of the old world, the new roles of the sexes, and man’s loss of faith in God, in ideals, in himself. Read it.

What I loved

The spare beauty and vigour of Hemingway’s prose. The strength of an active sentence, the power of that perfect verb.

It made me want to dance and drink whisky in Paris, and fish and drink wine chilled in a mountain stream in the mountains of Spain, and see a bullfight and drink from a wine skin in Pamploma. To say damn this and damn that, and “What a lot of rot” and “To hell with you, Lady Ashley.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Solid Mandala – by Patrick White

September 27, 2009

Review by Gabriel

The Solid Mandala tells the story of the Brown brothers, Waldo and Arthur, non-identical twins living in the small Australian town of Sarsaparilla.  It’s a novel about lost souls and everyday saints, and what they do to find a place in the world, told with all the beauty and poignancy one can expect of White.

White has gone for the literary trope of twins that embody his notions of “good” and “bad”, and his world view is clearly laid out as a result.

Read the rest of this entry »