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23 January 2009 @ 09:00 pm
For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway

Just for a change - a book I genuinely enjoyed! (I'm tempted to insert a lol here, but I'm not quite sure how it would fit.) I can’t say how much my opinion is influenced by the very arduous Henry James I read before this, but on the other hand - how could I resist a 'classic' that contains Your Mom jokes?

The only real quibble I have with it is that this is where Wheel of Tiresome!Robert Jordan got his penname. So, every time Hemingway wrote out the lead character's full title - which was often, idek - I instantly pictured stupid Rand Al Thor or whatever the fuck his name was and his posse of biatches and floating ruby daggers. IT WAS A LITTLE DISCONCERTING.

First of all, this was deceptively easy to read. I plowed through it in four days. (Okay, if that's not impressive, this was with hospitals and study and, er, extensive napping AS WELL). That's his prose in a nutshell: deceptive. It looks so simple and plain it seems as if anyone could do it - as if it should come naturally - but I've read enough in my time to say conclusively that this is not the case. And, while the thees and thous threw me at the beginning, I'm now having to consciously prevent myself from saying to my friends, "Art thou going for scones yet or must we hang around this obscenity of a tutorial with the BT-wearing Hungarian a while longer?'

I don't quite understand the lack of real swearing - was it that it's been editorially blacked out, or did he choose this option to make it publishable? At first I rolled my eyes, but I got so enamored of the obscenity this and obscenity that by the end that I wouldn't have changed it for the world.

I'm not a huge fan of war novels, and I know nothing about the Spanish Civil War. Fortunately, the side-stories - mainly Pilar's - about the smell of death, and the blood-coughing (my mind wants to turn haemoptysis into a verb, here) matador and the MURDER LINE OF FLAILS OMG were absolutely stunning. Move over, Salinger; if Hemingway's other novels are like this, I have a new hero.

"I obscenity in the milk of thy tiredness," Agustin said.
"Then go and befoul thyself," Pilar told him without heat.
"Thy mother," Agustin replied.

See? I wasn't lying about the your mom jokes!

This book is actually very funny, which I wasn't expecting and had all but given up on hoping for.

"And what do gypsies do in the war?" Robert Jordan asked him
"They keep on being gypsies."


"Que va," said the woman of Pablo. "The melon of Castile is for self abuse. The melon of Valencia is for eating.[...]"

IMO, all melons - all FRUIT - is for self abuse. But that's a personal thing and in no way should be taken as valid medical advice.

"Eatest thou always onions for breakfast?" Agustin asked.
"When there are any."
"Do all in thy country do this?"
"Nay," Robert Jordan said. "It is looked on badly there."
"I am glad," Agustin said. "I had always considered America a civilised country."

YEAH, NO THANKS AMERICA. On the other hand, this custom of eating doughnuts for breakfast is one of which I heartily approve. Continue with that in time for me to join in, k?

The Lieutenant-Colonel Miranda [...] had lost the love of his wife in Madrid while he was losing his digestion in Morocco, and became a Republican when he found he could not divorce his wife (there was never any question of recovering his digestion)

This is where the 'lol' goes, methinks.

Then there were the funny things that were also incredibly empathic when you scratched the surface.

"Thee came barefooted," he said.
"Then thee knew thou were coming to the bed."
"And you had no fear."
"Yes. Much. But more fear of how it would be to take my shoes off."

Because, you know, I always think about that in sex scenes. WHERE DO THE SHOES AND SOCKS GO? You can't have sex with socks on, that's gross.

"I was glad thou were hanging over my back when the shots were coming from behind us."
"What a swine," Maria said. "And was it for this the gypsy too carried me so much?"
"For that and to hold on to thy legs."

Just. Brilliant.

"Then," Maria said. "If you will teach me to shoot it either one of us could shoot the other and himself, or herself, if one were wounded and it were necessary to avoid capture."
"Very interesting," Robert Jordan said. "Do you have many ideas like that?"

Was a movie ever made of this? You could make a great movie of this, with BAM BAM fight scenes (not that I care for those) plus this awesome dialogue, if it weren't altered a whit.


[...] she wanted him never to forget that he was also protected by the Sacred Heart of Jesus that he wore still, she trusted, at all times over his own heart where it had been proven innumerable - this was underlined - times to have the power of stopping bullets. [...]
It was from the boy's novia, his fiancée, and it was quietly, formally, and completely hysterical with concern for his safety.

QUIET AND HYSTERICAL. Even now my nose is all tingly. (Does anyone else cry with their nose? Or is this another 'just me, then' things?)

I did not notice anything that passed for I could only see my father and my mother at the moment of the shooting and my mother saying, "Long live my husband who was Mayor of this village," and this was in my head like a scream that would not die but kept on and on. For my mother was not a Republican and she would not say, "Viva la Republica," but only Viva my father who lay there, on his face, by her feet.

I cannot textually render my feelings. Emoticons, then: ;______________________________;

Other things impressed moi that I would usually call philosophy, but won't in this case, because it's so subtle and cleverly inserted that it can't be. Philosophy is more ostentatious.

"You like to hunt?"
"Yes, man. More than anything. We all hunt in my village. You do not like to hunt?"
"No," said Robert Jordan. "I do not like to kill animals."
"With me it is the opposite," the old man said. "I do not like to kill men."


There is no language as filthy as Spanish. There are words for all the vile words in English and there are other words and expressions that are used in countries where blasphemy keeps pace with the austerity of religion.

SO TRUE. The Irish are terribly foul-mouthed too, and we were Holy Catholic Ireland for way too long.

Surely. He was the Bulldog of Villaconejos and not for anything would he have missed doing it each year in his village. But he knew there was no better feeling than that one the sound of the rain gave when he knew he would not have to do it.

I don't even GET this, but it's great, isn't it?

"But I wished to say it. Since we are different I am glad that thou art Roberto and I Maria. But if thou should ever wish to change I would be glad to change. I would be thee because I love thee so."

Maybe I feel it more because I've fallen in love again, but for me, this is exactly what real love is. Loving someone else so much you would be them. Just. Yes.

Previously, on Book Glomp 2009:
He Knew He Was Right, Anthony Trollope
The Bostonians, Henry James
Current Mood: surprisedsurprised
Current Music: whodunnit? // the reindeer section
Yo.: DLMinsipid_paragon on January 24th, 2009 04:23 am (UTC)
I instantly pictured stupid Rand Al Thor or whatever the fuck his name was and his posse of biatches and floating ruby daggers. IT WAS A LITTLE DISCONCERTING.
This made me fall over laughing, and may have gone a ways to making me think maybe I'll get around to reading it myself one of these days. (Having avoided it 'til now because, yeah, war books, ehh not so much.) Your mom jokes, though, seriously--who could pass that up?
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: ruthenia alba yellow serious girlscoradh on January 25th, 2009 08:35 pm (UTC)
But trust me, the war element is not over-played. The book itself takes place over only three days, so there's no prolonged stratagems or anything. Nor is it even about war, really. Um. Not really selling it here, but: READ IT!
pir8fancier on January 24th, 2009 06:33 am (UTC)
I think the scene where Pilar describes the raping of the village one of the most moving descriptions in literature. Having said that, I think that Hemingway's profound issues with women is never clearer than in this book. We have the aging, bitter, grouchy Pilar and the would-be-saintly (but physically besmirched) Maria. Classic Hemingway. His misogyny was never better written.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: ra teapot and coloured cupsscoradh on January 25th, 2009 08:38 pm (UTC)
That is so weird. My raison d'etre with some of these books is gleefully picking out the misogyny and holding it up like a dead rat and saying 'LOOK WHAT YOU DID!' But I really got no feeling of it from this book. Not at all.

I didn't find Pilar grouchy or bitter. In fact, I thought she was awesome, and portrayed as such - the accepted leader of the clan, who knows she's beautiful despite outward contradictions? Yeah. Aweesome. As for Maria, she was genuinely a sweet girl simply because she was gently raised, and the awful things that happened to her didn't really change that (yet). Yeah, I don't even know.
pir8fancier on January 25th, 2009 11:08 pm (UTC)
In American letters (do a Google Scholar search on Hemingway and misogyny), I think you'll find a number of scholars who believe that Hemingway had, um, problems with women. Being something of a Hemingway whore (I have four biographies of him), he seems to, IMO, trifurcate (is that a word?) his women into madonnas, whores, or virgins. And there really is no amalgamation of the three. The ones who are sexual (and not in the Maria way who remains untouched in a way by the sex, hence the virgin thing) are often killed off for their sexuality (Farewell to Arms), and are also often seen as betrayers.

Hemingway's relationship with women was problematic. He loathed his mother with a passion (because she was VERY like him, something of a bully), and his first and second wife could be seen as mother figures. His third wife, the journalist Martha Gellhorn, was the only relationship in which they were equal (and the only relationship that he didn't end, SHE did; he was the sort who always had a woman in the wings before he dumped the previous wife). His last wife was also a journalist, but seemed to be something of a star fucker and abandoned her career when they married. I think that if you read his entire oeuvre you would see a strain of real hostility toward women. Certainly not as profound as Norman Mailer, but I'd say that he always ended up punishing his women somehow.

I'm not even going to go into the recent scholarly bent that he had issues with his masculinity and was hiding the gay behind all that machismo he threw around. Which he did. Constantly. The sort of man who settled arguments by punches in the nose and always had a gun under one arm. He was something of a hunting fanatic. Anyway, STILL, I will say that For Whom the Bell Tolls was a seminal book in my awakening to the power of literature. It's a beautifully written book.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: ruthenia alba colour dances bluescoradh on January 25th, 2009 11:25 pm (UTC)
I had none of this background information to hand when I read this, just the knowledge that he 'hung out with Picasso trying to nail his leftovers' :D (thanks, Ten Things I Hate About You!). I mean, I can't see it - this time - but it might be there on deeper analysis. I'll have to read more of his books and see, but. Isn't it typical that the first book I've liked in a while would be so slyly misogynistic that I didn't pick up on it? GRR!
trichinopoly ash: bale: patrick batemanaldehyde on January 26th, 2009 04:58 pm (UTC)
hehehe rand al thor! maybe i'll finally get through a hemingway book now that i have this reference to look back on ;)
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: bands Katy Perry pink ballscoradh on January 26th, 2009 09:46 pm (UTC)
I can't say the same for Robert Jordan. I got halfway through the third book and realised I was WASTING MY LIFE.
trichinopoly ash: girl: red heels & luggagealdehyde on January 26th, 2009 09:54 pm (UTC)
eheh. i've read the entire series [or what have of it so far] twice. met jordan when he came to toronto in 2003 and got the 11th book signed too.

all the female characters are the same and i want to butcher them. some of the men are twerps too, but at least there are a few i'm fond of. plus i like the premise behind the entire series and the world it's set in :)

too bad he had to kick the bucket before the last book was written. sigh.