My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Bookshelves: literature-with-a-capital-l, artsy-fartsy, lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous, classic
I hadn’t actually read anything by Hemingway before; I’ve just been in love with his “the first draft of anything is shit” line for years. Then I read The Paris Wife recently and figured it was time to bump up my Literature-with-a-capital-L cred.
And here I go, being all lowbrow.
As far as I can determine, this is a book about a bunch of whiny-ass alcoholics who can afford to be pretentious elite whiny-ass alcoholics in Paris instead of garden-variety peasant whiny-ass alcoholics in Bumfuck, South Dakota. They start out in Paris where they drink and then they go drink in San Sebastian and then they go to Vienna where they drink some more and then they go drinking in Paris again and then they go to Spain and catch some fish and drink and then they go their separate ways because they’re finally all sick of each other–still drinking. They have repetitive conversations about nothing, probably because they’re always drunk. And did I mention they drink? They drink a lot. A lot. I’m surprised any of them can stand up.
I did try to get into the spirit of it. I was early for work one morning so I went next door to McDonald’s and pretended I was reading over breakfast at Les Deux Magots. Très continental. My lips were turning blue in the air conditioning and the toddler at the next table was screeching so I moved to an outside table and pretended I was looking out at the cobblestones of Rue de la Montagne Sainte Geneviève instead of at that homeless guy on Houser Street. No joy. My Egg McMuffin did not turn into a brioche. My coffee did not turn into espresso, which is okay because I don’t like espresso. Jake and Brett did not stop drinking.
I get it, though. I do. This is the quintessential novel about the Lost Generation with all its angst and navel-gazing, its souls seared by war and ennui and its future filled with existentialist despair. All I can say is, maybe if they pulled their heads out of the bottle and thought about something other than themselves and actually did something useful, life might take on some meaning. And I see why Papa’s writing style is so universally admired, but you can only drink so much absinthe and drop the names of so many Paris streets before I start to think you’re just showing off.
Things I appreciated:
1. Basques, and the fine art of drinking from a wineskin.
3. The romanticism of bullfighting.
4. Brett Ashley running off with a fine young bullfighter just because she wants to. Women with sexual agency and all that.
Things I didn’t appreciate:
1. The barbarism of bullfighting.
2. Pretty much all of the dialogue. It sucks. Maybe it was supposed to, I don’t know.
3. Brett Ashley. She has the right to boink a fine young bullfighter if she feels like it, but I still don’t like her.
I did finish it, and now I have the frustrating feeling that I’m a failure if I don’t get something out of Hemingway.
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