Publication Date: 1926 (First edition)
Pages: 256 pages
The Sun Also Rises is Ernest Hemingway's first novel, written in Paris in the 1920s, showing the live of the now famous Lost Generation as they tried to find themselves. It is one of those novels that is a must-read for many people. The Guardian placed in on number 53 in their top 100 books and praise it as Hemingway's finest work, while the Independent disagrees and sees it as a clear work in progress of a writer's development. Since it's only my second Hemingway novel, I did quite a lot of internet research about the story and meaning of the book. I included this in my review, since I thought it might be helpful for other people and put my opinions in a better context.
The Sun Also Rises is the story of Jake Barnes, who lives in Paris and is friends with writers. We start the story by seeing his day to day in Paris and how the appearance of Lady Ashley interferes with it. It is clear Jake has some history with her and though most of it is left unsaid, the reader gets a good sense on their relationship. Then the whole group decides to travel to Spain to go fishing and to see a bullfighting event. Once they're away from Paris, the whole group starts to fall apart and the term 'Lost Generation' seems to be shouted from every action of every character.
Hemingway was a journalist with only short story experience before this novel, and that's something that is immediately clear from this book. While the New York Times calls his narrative "lean, hard, athletic narrative prose that puts more literary English to shame," I often felt like I was reading a really long news article. There's an immense amount of detail in the story about the environment, most specifically the bars and beverages drank in said bars, but very little on the emotions of people. What does Jake feel? What does Lady Ashley want? It's all for the reader to interpret (- or to look at the version of the book that connects earlier drafts together and which does give a full picture of the story).
This means that though on the surface a quick read, this novel is quite hard work. The sentences are short and easy to understand, but the reader constantly has to look behind the words to see what Hemingway really means. I struggled with this because I always thought Hemingway was easy and not a modernist writer at all. Straight-forward, manly language with a lot of details. Easy. Only after about 100 pages in did I realise this book requires more thought to be fully appreciated. I'm sure seasoned Hemingway readers will know this, but it's an adjustment for someone like me.
This also means that it's hard to relate to the characters, since we get so little real information about them. I'm always iffy to say whether a work of fiction is autobiographical for an author, but The Sun Also Rises is easier to read if we do make that leap. I think that's why so many people do see it as Hemingway's most autobiographical work - the timeline matches, the places are places he had been and the little information we do know about Jake does seem to match Hemingway. While I used it to make it easier for myself while reading, I'm still cautious to jump to big conclusions about Jake and Hemingway. Mainly I just wish I knew more about Jake so I didn't have to bring in elements of the author.
Overall, this book is fascinating to read. It is the first major book writing by a Lost Generation author during the 1920s in Paris and the story is also set in Paris. It gives us great insight into their day to day activities, though we do often have to piece their thoughts and ideas together ourselves, since Hemingway won't give us very much explicitly. I didn't love this book, but I enjoyed it a lot more than For Whom the Bell Tolls and thought Hemingway's journalistic narrative worked better in this story. Would I have preferred more insight into the characters and less in the environment? Yes. But I think this book also showcases how Hemingway became the famous writer he did - and it made me very eager to travel to Paris some time soon!