Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

A while back, during a drive to and from Austin, I listened to the audio book, The Paris Wife, about Hemingway's wife in Paris.  That sparked my interest in Hemingway.  After I finished The Paris Wife, I went to Half Price Books and bought a copy of A Moveable Feast, with the intention of reading it right away.  But I got distracted and the book remained on the floor next to the couch for the next two months.

Then I recently started hearing about the new Woody Allen movie, Midnight in Paris, and I kept hearing about how bits of the dialogue were taken from Hemingway's Moveable Feast.  I figured before I watched the movie, maybe I should read the book (though I've been told the movie is completely enjoyable without having read Moveable Feast.) 

Today, I wanted to spend some time out in the sun reading, so I decided to pick up this book off the floor where it has sat since I went out that night and bought it -- so much for having to have it right then.

I've only read one other book by Hemingway, that being A Farewell to Arms.  I love that book, but a lot of people I know do not enjoy Hemingway's work.  But I have to say, I like Moveable Feast quite a bit.

The writing is very sparse, very to the point, which I know is what some of the complaints are with regard to Hemingway's writing.  But it works so well with these stories.

These are his memories of his days in Paris, as a young writer, before he became well known or successful.  (Same time period covered in the book The Paris Wife which is why I initially had wanted to read it.)  In the preface he explains that the stories could very well be fiction.  (They're being written about 40 years after the events happened.)  During the time period this story covers, he was very young and ambitious and very poor.  He was newly married, with a baby.  He spent his days in cafes, working on his writing.  He spent his evenings drinking with other famous writers and artists - the Lost Generation.

Most of all though, it's the story of Paris.  His writing details the streets he walks, the restaurants and parks he visits.  Having been to Paris a few times and being very much in love with the city, I enjoyed remembering these locations and visualizing them as the stories unfolded.  This was after the war, when Paris was rebuilding and people could live there, and live well, for very little money.  He emphasizes that he didn't make much money on his writing as a reporter, but they still had a place to live, money for bread and good wine and time for fun.  They could afford to travel and gamble.  They hiked and skied and they enjoyed their life despite being rather poor financially.

In the end, it was success and the money that came with it that destroyed the happy world of Paris in which he and his wife lived.  "I wish I had died before I ever loved anyone but her," he writes of his first wife, forty something years after he fell in love with someone else. 

There are so many beautiful lines in this book.  Had I not been lying outside in the sun reading, I would have been obnoxiously underlining passages.  From his descriptions of his own writing process, I get the impression he did a lot of self editing, which is probably the result of what is considered his stark prose.  But it's beautiful in this context.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in writing, because he writes quite a bit about what it took to become a writer, or anyone interested in Paris and especially to anyone interested in the so-called Lost Generation of Paris in the 20s.  This book is full of mentions of people such as Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound, Sherwood Anderson and Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald.

And on the subject of Fitzgerald, the story about him and Hemingway taking a trip to a from Lyon would make a hilarious movie.  Why hasn't that been done yet?  Hemingway gets on the train, thinking Fitzgerald is on it, only to have the train leave without Fitzgerald.  They finally meet up in Lyon, and go to retrieve the Fitzgerald's car, which has had the top removed because, "Zelda doesn't like tops on cars."  They have to keep stopping because it keeps raining on them, and then Fitzgerald decides he's dying of a fever and expects Ernest to take care of him.  Then he's upset because he's never spent a night away from his wife (except, as Ernest can't help noticing, he wasn't with her the night before because the two of them were in Lyon together.)  Very funny.

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