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A Farewell to Arms - Ernest Hemingway

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Author: Ernest Hemingway / Genre: Fiction

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    3 Reviews
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      13.12.2012 15:20
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      An enjoyable read

      Despite the best intentions, there are still large numbers of authors whose work I have never read - something which I expect a lot of you will understand and agree with. Thankfully, I was able to put at least one right recently, when I finally read a book by Ernest Hemingway - A Farewell to Arms.

      Set on the Italian front during World War One, A Farewell to Arms is the story of an American ambulance driver and his relationship with a British nurse.

      The book's jacket says that the story deals with Frederic Henry's "passion for a beautiful English nurse" and deals with "the profound struggle between loyalty and desertion". Now maybe I wasn't reading into the text deeply enough, but I didn't experience either of these aspects of the novel. Frederic does have a relationship with Catherine, an English nurse, but I never felt any passion in the relationship. Aside from a few passages, Frederic seems almost ambivalent about it all. His passion for Catherine did not come across to me, although the novel is entirely in first person from his perspective. As well as this, there are incidences of loyalty and desertion in the novel, but I didn't sense the struggle between them, at least not from Frederic. He seemed to simply walk away - well, jump into a river and be swept away, but the point is that I felt no regret from him, no anguish and no struggle.

      As much as I enjoyed the novel in general, and Hemingway's writing style, I seem to have read it completely differently to how I should. I don't mean I read it while standing on my head, but that my understanding of the characters was different. Frederic to me seemed rather like a drifter, coasting through life and just taking whatever comes - for example, he and Catherine got along, so he ended up with her. I found Catherine incredibly annoying and clingy; very early in the relationship, possibly their second meeting, she pressures him to say he loves her - later she claims this was a silly joke, but I really felt it set the tone for her character, constantly needing reassurance, having no will of her own and simply wanting to be an extension of Frederic.

      I did however enjoy the writing. Sometimes it seemed simplistic, too simplistic, but Hemingway's style did help to paint a vivid picture of the war in Italy. There were moments of light humour, usually involving Frederic's friends in the army, and some came across as being almost unintentional, but I expect Hemingway crafted every sentence of this novel with the utmost care, and nothing is unintentional.

      This assumption is backed up by the edition of the novel which I read, a new special edition form Heinemann which includes some early drafts of certain passages and all 47 alternative endings. Many of these alternative endings are very slightly different versions of the same thing, and the majority of them are not dramatically different to the actual ending - these alternative endings seem largely to be Hemingway trying to get how he expressed the ending right, rather than trying out different events to conclude the novel. It was interesting to glance through these endings, but all these additions would be of much more interest to devotees of Hemingway who have studied his work.

      Despite being unimpressed with the characters, I did enjoy A Farewell to Arms, and I will certainly read more of Hemingway's work. Whether this was the best novel to start with I don't know, but I would recommend it - and the special edition would make an ideal Christmas gift for Hemingway fans.


      This review was first published on www.curiousbookfans.co.uk. A review copy of the special edition of the novel was provided through Curious Book Fans by the publisher.

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        19.02.2010 12:44
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        Enjoyable read, but wouldn't particularly recommend it to war novel lovers.

        This is a very different war novel to many of the others, and it was also written at the time, making it one of the first. Ernest Hemmingway fought in World War One in a similiar way to his main character, was injured and also fell in love. This novel therefore contains element of autobiography as they are not works of fiction. The novel is very strong throughout and I enjoyed it very much, Hemmingway describes his scenes perfectly yet does it with much fewer words than other authors, thus making the novel shorter.

        However the ending, is, in my opinion a little weak, but I believe Hemmingway's message had something to do with however much you love someone they may still die. Personally I think Hemmingway's novel differs greatly from the stereotypical war novel, and this is a welcome change. But if you read war novels for their fighting scenes, this is not a book for you. There are very few action scenes, with in my opinion the novel being a love story with a war setting.

        The love story has a much greater focus on it than the war elements, and thus if you like a light romance, then this book may be good for you. The love is not too heavy and over powering, however the relationship does seem a little boring.

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          12.07.2001 14:24
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          'A Farewell To Arms' was one of Hemingway's earliest novels. Set in southern Europe during the last year or so of the Great War, it reflects his own experiences as a volunteer American ambulance driver on the Italian front, when he was badly wounded. Reduced to its bare essentials, the plot is simple. Lieutenant Frederic Henry, who narrates the story in the first person, is an American officer serving with an Italian ambulance unit. He is introduced to an English nurse, Catherine Barkley, whose fiancé has been killed in France, at a British hospital in Gorizia, and they fall in love. During the Austrian bombardment he is wounded and evacuated to a hospital near Milan, and is operated on. She finds that she is carrying his child, gets transferred to the hospital so she can nurse him, and they agree that despite the lack of a wedding ring, they are to all intents and purposes husband and wife. He returns to the front before the Austro-German offensive breaks through Italian defences at Caporetto, has a narrow escape from the Germans and Italians searching for deserters, dives into the river and swims across to safety. After he follows Catherine to Stresa, they stay at a hotel and he is warned that his arrest for desertion is imminent. A barman at the hotel lends them a boat and they escape to Switzerland. There we'll cut. Or, if you want an even more brief summary, let's call it basically a love story about a man and a woman trying to escape from the horrors of war. If you don't want to know the ending before you read the book, try and avoid reading the synopses which are all too easy to find, on and off the net. The novel has long been regarded by critics as one of the greatest anti-war novels of all, and was filmed three years after its first publication. Massively popular over the last seventy years, it is revered by some and disregarded as overrated nonsense by others. Personally, I'
          ;d rather sit on the fence. Overall, I think the story is well told. There are moments of great tenderness in the affair between Frederic and Catherine, and the novel is free from the machismo which later became Hemingway's trademark, or what one disparaging reviewer at the time dismissed as being like 'false hair on the chest'. However, in between the action, there are great swathes of story when nothing really happens, and there is line after line of clipped staccato dialogue between both main protagonists and which gives the impression of padding. Sometimes this laconic, blunt style is very effective - if vague. The opening paragraph of chapter one plunges us straight into the story: "In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village..." Now if I'd begun an essay or a story like that at school, I can see my English master returning it with remarks and exclamation marks in red in the margin. Which year? Which house? Which village? And if I'd defended myself on the grounds that 'if it was OK for a Nobel Prize winner for literature, it was OK for me', I'd have probably got detention for showing off. (And that's two more marks off for beginning sentences with the word 'And'. Oh my). The contrast in descriptions in this short opening chapter are striking. Alternate sentences about the river bed with water clear and moving, or a crop-rich plain, and orchards of fruit trees, are interwoven with matter-of-fact descriptions of war, troops, men fighting, as if this futile war is about to lay to waste everything that nature has created. In some ways it's all very matter-of-fact, bloodless even (for 'bloodless', read 'detached'; the Great War was hardly bloodless). But it also seems rather dry, as if being observed by someone who's not involved except at a distance. Towards the end of the tale, he describes the passing of the
          winter thus: "We had a fine life. We lived through the months of January and February and the winter was very fine and we were happy." Again, I can't see myself getting a high mark for writing like that. Yet one can defend Hemingway for his matter-of-factness, in driving the story on with the minimum of embellishment. Moreover, he paints an atmospheric picture from time to time with his evocative yet terse, uncluttered descriptions of crowded trains and deserted cafes. Frederic and Catherine are the only characters in the book. Well, not exactly, but they are the only flesh and blood personalities - he with his growing distaste for war, she with her devotion to the man she comes to regard as her husband and her disregard for social conventions. There are a few other people in the story - one or two hotel and medical staff, Frederic's room mate Rinaldi, a surgeon at the Italian front, and a priest - but they are mere supporting players, little more than cut-outs on the edge of the stage, who say their lines but somehow hardly seem to come alive. Only at the final scene (and I hope I'm not spoiling it here) does the story really take off emotionally, prior to the final moments of desolation. As a story about the futility of war and the attempt by two people to find their own private happiness in a world where everybody is questioning their values, it's an adequate, even good novel. Some readers will relish it, others find it tedious. The choice is yours. I was curious to try it because of its reputation as one of the most successful, and still enduring, books of the inter-war years, and I'd recommend it with some reservations. As an example of one of the US's most important novelists of his age it's worth trying, but frankly I don't think I'd read it again.

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        • Product Details

          From his own experiences of war, Hemingway depicts the fear, the chaos, the comradeship and the courage, and also presents a love story of drama and passion. A young American volunteers for the Italian ambulance service in World War I. Near the front he meets and falls in love with a British nurse.