Tuesday, 26 November 2013


Every so often I read a classic book that I haven't read before, just because I feel one should. If that's not something you would consider doing, it may seem a bit odd, especially as they often disappoint, but in my mind they became classics for a reason.

I chose Hemingway's "Farewelll to Arms" this time, because it's not too long. I had never got round to Hemingway, but I've had several of his sitting in my library a long time. I knew this was semi-autobiographical, so it seemed like a good start.

And I didn't like it. I'm not even sure whether I'll try the others.

Perhaps in its day it was something outstanding, a book about war that wasn't all heroism. For that I suppose it has value.

Firstly I couldn't get past the writing style. Does that man love the word "and" or what? But I told myself, you've read far quirkier styles than this, get over it.

The real problem was the conversations his characters had. They may well have been realistic, but I just couldn't keep up with the randomness.

This is a problem I often have with TV and movies. Person A says X. Person B says Z, and my head goes "WTF?"

I am expecting too much, I know. I'm expecting replies to follow logically, and people are not logical. They say what's on their mind, which may or may not be any sort of reply at all. So if a conversation in a fictional piece doesn't "follow" properly, it may just be a reflection on how human conversation is.

On the other hand if it's too trite and formulaic I just groan. You know the ones. You can even predict what stereotype A will reply to stereotype B.

So I'm asking a lot. I'm asking for conversations that make sense, while still being refreshing and thoughtful.

But my point here is that plenty of writers manage this, in fact I think that's how I judge a good writer. I can feel his characters thinking.

If these characters were thinking then I couldn't "hear" it at all. Of course it would be very hard for me to relate to a nurse in a foreign country in wartime, but surely the whole point of offering me that character was to make me sympathetic to her? She just confused me.

And I'm absolutely no good at people who are conflicted in romance. This is my problem, of course, but it would help if I could understand WHY they behaved like that.

Soliders' friendships? Obviously an area I have no background in, BUT THAT'S THE POINT, ISN'T IT?

Isn't it the writer's job to bring those characters alive to me? To show me that relationship, to allow me to see inside it, to feel something, whether I like them or not. That is the whole purpose of reading a story. Otherwise characters don't even need names. They are just props.

I should know, very quickly, the basic personality, and then come to know it more and more as the story goes on.

Because if I can't get inside the character's head, then I can't get inside the author's head, and Hemingway is locked up tight.


  1. Haven't read it but I've read one of his short stories and "liked" it.

    Did you feel all the characters were locked up tight or just the nurse?

    1. No, all of them. After reading an entire novel about them I felt I knew them no better than if I'd just met them at a bus stop and had a quick chat.

  2. I have been on a similar path with the classics. I should do at least one Hemingway. I read For whom the bell tolls in my teens, in Dutch. At the time I liked it. That whole thing about living intensely, if briefly, appeals to adolescents. I have no idea how I would experience it today.

    1. I believe all books are better in their original language, but the only thing I can read a whole book in other than English is French so I miss out on a lot.