I've read many of Ernest Hemingway's most revered short stories, and I've read one of his more acclaimed novels, The Sun Also Rises. I like Hemingway for the most part. He wrote good stories, but the style was very bare. I think Hemingway tried to strip down his stories as much as possible and, though he was good at it, this has always annoyed me a little. When I'm sipping coffee and nibbling on doughnuts with fellow literati, we make jokes about various authors. I often crack jokes on poor Hemingway and his pronoun-leading sentences.
Well, the joke is on me.
A Farewell to Arms is a tremendous novel. It employs Hemingway's signature simplicity, but it is not as simple as I remember Hemingway's other works being. He used elegant language and description more freely, but never more than you'd expect from Hemingway. This blend makes for a wonderful novel, a novel that lets the story and the characters speak for themselves. It is well-casted, well-plotted, and paced perfectly. It is thrilling and heartbreaking. This, for me, was a surprisingly good novel.
Now, I wasn't a big fan of Catherine Barkley and without reading other reviews, I would guess, aside from the ending for some, this is the most griped about element of this book. Hemingway was “a man's writer” and his life story portrays him as machismo, but Hemingway could still write a descent female character, certainly better than some others. Catherine was not one of these. She's weak and annoying and ignorant; yet she's strong, entertaining, and very intelligent. Perhaps Catherine was a bit crazy, a bit damaged. Now if Hemingway wrote all his female characters this way, I would assume he was just an idiot. Since he doesn't, I have to give him the benefit of the doubt. There may be people like Catherine in the world, but with Hemingway's bare style—refusing to explain Catherine—I struggled to understand her and had difficulty getting past her juvenile dialogue. What was it that Frederic saw in her?
Catherine aside, which admittedly is a large part of the book, I thought A Farewell to Arms was spectacular. It's real and it's memorable. Is Hemingway over-hyped by academia? Absolutely, at least in my experience; but that's not to say that he wasn't a really great writer and master of the pared down narrative. So I'll be more careful about the Hemingway jokes. Orwell is easier to poke fun at anyway.