For someone who is a massive non-fiction reader, that is still learning to read fiction, this book is an acquired taste for me. Brilliant at the beginning, can be somewhat dull in the middle, and at a first glance it just abruptly ended without any real conclusion.
But still, this is Hemingway’s famed first novel. The best he ever wrote, according to his biographer Jeffrey Myers.
It is a story inspired by an actual event, during the post World War 1 era that produced the so-called “lost generation” of American expatriates that stayed on in Europe and lived in a hedonic manner. In particular, the book is inspired by the events and people from the summer of 1925 when Hemingway and several expats lived in Paris and went to Pamplona for the Festival of San Fermín.
It is also a soap opera of love entanglement between several people in the group, with Lady Brett Ashley at the center of it. The drama is neatly summarised by Hemingway’s grandson, Seán, in the book’s introduction: “Sometimes love just happens, and it does not always end happily. Brett’s affairs with Jake, Cohn, Mike Campbell, and even Pedro Romero are hopelessly entwined and tragically sad. Love triumphs over all but leaves carnage in its wake. For Jake Barnes, wisdom is gained at the expense of heartbreak.”
Indeed, Brett is a character that you either love or hate. And the fact that people’s opinion of her have been polarized for decades is a testament to Hemingway who created her complex character.
Moreover, in the same introduction Seán also writes about his grandfather’s process of writing, editing, and rewriting of this book, which gives the needed context of what’s going on inside Hemingway’s mind as he wrote it. This comes in handy later on, as my focus on the novel shifted to the style of writing and not the story itself (which can be quite over the top and exaggerated at times).
This is where the book becomes a masterpiece, where Hemingway shows his talent on describing a complex set of personalities, which then mashed them up together in a single narrative. It has a smooth buildup of the introduction of each of the characters from zero to complicated human beings, with the flawed relationships between the individuals become more apparent as the story develops. It is also very impressive how Hemingway can vividly describe the atmosphere of the places as the background context in which the character interactions take place.
All in all, the novel feels like quite a long story filled with so many events, adventures, and tragedies, considering the book is only 98 pages long. And as always, the thing is with Hemingway’s books is that they make you think of all other analogies in a similar situation as his stories. And this is what eventually blew my mind at the after thought.
A case in point, the title “The Sun Also Rises” refers to a biblical verse Ecclesiastes 1:5 where King Solomon (the wisest man ever lived) said “The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.” Which loosely translated to human condition is a never ending cycle of ups and downs, happy and sad, triumphs and defeats. And by acknowledging this cycle it can lessen some of the pains during all the chaos, such as the despairs occurring in the story, as whatever happens today the sun will rise again tomorrow.
This, makes the otherwise dull and uneventful ending (that conversation inside the taxi) becomes a deep philosophical essence of the entire book. And this, is what makes Hemingway one of the best there is.