By Ilenia Reale // Matthew Staff || Edited by Jacopo Menichincheri
I know one fact about Ernest Hemingway: he really liked fishing. He started hunting when he was only 3 years old and his passion continued in his teenage years and adult life, becoming a very skilled fisherman. His delight for fishing comes to life in almost all his works; it’s not a coincidence that one of his most famous novels is called The Old Man and the Sea (1952).
Hemingway dedicated a whole bit on fishing trout also in his first novel, Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises (1926). I’ll admit I was skeptical when I first came across this book because of Hemingway’s fishing obsession, but The Sun Also Rises ended up being a pleasant revelation.
Fiesta is set in 1924 Paris, France, and Pamplona, Spain. The novel revolves around the lives of expatriates who seem to find comfort in being carefree. The protagonist, Jake, is a veteran who was badly injured during WWI. He was helped by Lady Ashley Brett who nursed him, and they fell in love. However, Lady Brett is engaged to another man, Mike, even though the spark between her and Jake is undeniable.
The premises of The Sun Also Rises are juicy to say the least; however, if I had to choose a word to describe the book it would be, uneventful. I mean uneventful in the best way possible, as the meaninglessness of the actions that fill about 200 hundred pages reinforces the message of the novel: Fiesta speaks of the post-war immorality, and mankind learning how labile life is, hence, decadence is at the base of all the characters’ lives.
All the people we read about are soaked in alcohol. I might even dare to say that alcohol is one of the characters of the novel, since it’s mentioned on every page, whether it be a bottle of wine, a beer, or a whiskey soda. I appreciated the constant presence of alcohol because it adds a tone of disillusionment to Fiesta, which challenges what the characters actually do.
In fact, they always seem to enjoy themselves. They go out to eat all the time, they go dancing, they party, they travel to Spain and, of course, go fishing. However, this is just appearance; none of this matters because at the roots they are all stuck and unsatisfied with their condition.
One of the main reasons for their somber lives relies in the carnal desire. Undoubtedly sex is the core issue of the relationship between Lady Brett and Jake. Even though it’s never explicated, Jake’s injury during the war might have left him impotent. Despite the fact that Lady Brett and Jake remain in love, she cannot give up her sexual life. On the contrary, Lady Brett is always looking for sexual partners and is unable to commit to anyone.
One of the things I enjoyed the most about The Sun Also Rises were the dialogues. Hemingway was able to portray real life at its best when he allowed his characters to speak. All dialogues flow perfectly. The are no infinite monologues, but rather quick exchanges full of meaning. Nothing is ever served on a silver dish, but the few words paired with the characters’ small actions convey exactly what their intentions are.
I also found Hemingway’s depiction of Spain marvelous. I have been to Spain, and I could definitely smell the joyous atmosphere through the pages. The food, the colors, the people and the detailed description of the corrida were very on point. Fiesta is what I consider to be a strong example of successful and engaging travel writing.
Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises isn’t packed with action or plot twists, but it still kept me glued reading incessantly for two days. It offers an accurate portrait of the decadent period and is very accessible to all readers. If you are new to Hemingway like me and want to give it a try, I would suggest you start with Fiesta.