The Sun Also Rises

by Ernest Hemingway

The Sun Also Rises, which was also published under the name Fiesta, takes the title we know it by here from Ecclesiastes—just like The House of Mirth does. The story is loosely autobiographical and follows a small group of expat American friends living in post WWI Western Europe. It is remarkably apposite that I win a case of wine (in a raffle) while reading this book, as the main characters are drunk (nearly exclusively on wine) about 85 percent of the time within the pages here!

Ernest Hemingway was a man's man, of course, but in this book it is the lone female main character, Brett Ashley, who has all the power. This point is underscored by two subthemes: impotence and bullfighting. Very near the beginning of the book, the reader is made privy to the fact that the thinly veiled Hemingway character, Jake Barnes, has suffered a war wound and is impotent. Most of the other male characters (in addition to Jake) are in love with the unattainable Lady Ashley, but imagine being in love with someone unavailable AND being impotent to boot. It's sort of like...even your impotence is impotent!? The backdrop of the running of the bulls at Pamplona (hence the alternate title of Fiesta) serves as an allegory for what this woman does to these men: incites their passion, gores them painfully & publicly, and leaves them with gaping wounds to crawl off and die. Bulls in this book do this to people and to steer. And to mix our metaphors here completely, a steer is...wait for it...a castrated bull!

The Sun Also Rises offers the reader Ernest Hemingway's "Iceberg Theory" of writing at its finest. Details are spare, and the narration & dialogue are peppered with gaps. The bare minimum is what's recorded here, and insofar as it attempts to convey a story, it really works! It's worth noting however, that the narrative style changes briefly, subtly, but palpably in the short stretches in which the protagonist is sober, alone, or both (rare). This writing, in contrast, is loaded with reflexive gems: stuff like how, if you accept that everything has a price, figuratively speaking, then... "Enjoying living was learning to get your money's worth and knowing when you had it. The world was a good place to buy in."

Anyway, nobody wrote like Hemingway before Hemingway, and nobody writes like Hemingway now. I have said before that I like his writing, and this book is no fact, it may be the paragon of his style. Narration that captures life like a sieve lends itself especially well to conveying the escapades of the inebriated, of course. But I also think—as a Hemingway aficionado—that writing that omits as much as it conveys is actually paying homage to how life in general (even when we are sober) can feel bewildering to practice.