A Farewell to Arms

Rating: -

Ernest Hemmingway

I had only read one Hemmingway novel before (The Sun Also Rises) and didn't like it at all, but given his fame, I thought it wouldn't be fair to entirely dismiss Hemmingway's work based on only one book. I've now read two of his best known books and disliked them both, so I feel free to now ignore his writing for the rest of my life.

A Farewell to Arms is about an American man who, for some reason which is never explained, is an officer in the Italian army during WWII, in charge of dispatching ambulances. This job appears to mostly entail drinking large quantities of alcohol, having sex, and lying around suffering from apathy. The man, Henry, starts up a relationship with a nurse named Helen, who pretends to herself that he is the young man she was in love with years ago who was killed. These two characters spend most of the book trying to keep themselves occupied even though they don't seem to care about each other. It isn't entirely clear whether they care about each other or if they pretend in order to have something to do - a reason to bother living.

I suppose that a book about the human struggle against a pervasive sense of pointlessness in life and ennui can't be high-energy, but I felt that the tone was oppressingly dull and hopeless. I wanted to shake the characters and tell them that if they really felt life was pointless, they should give themselves up to something more useful than each other, and perhaps they would end up feeling more energized for doing so. By the end of the book the characters seem attached to each other, but I can't imagine why that would be, other than their being used to each other. I'm afraid we are meant to conclude that that's all there really is to love.

As in The Sun Also Rises, I didn't like the writing very much. It was too dull. As I mentioned above, I suppose that the almost hypnotic, repetitious tone was meant to evoke the hopelessness about life that these books are about, but I disliked the experience of reading a text in that style. And in both books I was really disturbed by the massive alcohol consumption; I ended up feeling almost nauseous after some of the more prolonged drinking binges in the books.

Reading this book was an all-around unpleasant experience. About the only good thing to say about it was that it was a quick read so I didn't have to suffer for too long.


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