Sunday, 14 November 2010
Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises
Fiesta is divided into two books with the same characters featuring in each. Book one is set in Paris where we meet our characters who are all, without exception, wealthy ex-patriots living on money sent from home who do little but socialise in Parisian cafes and bars drinking copious amounts of alcohol. At the beginning of book two the characters head to a small Spanish community to take part in the upcoming fiesta. In the second book we get to see a little more of their personalities and the nature of their relationships which change drastically from amiable drunkenness and slurred promises to jealousy and violence.
Fiesta is somewhat of an enigma to me. On the surface it seems straightforward enough but I can’t help feeling it has a depth of meaning which is certainly beyond me on a first reading. At the beginning I found the main characters to be largely unlikable. None of them seem to contribute anything useful to society; they drift from one party to another getting drunk and generally wasting their lives. Despite first appearances there are complex relationships within the group which become more obvious and in-depth as the story progresses. As is typical of Hemingway’s unique style he gives you the bare minimum to go on and allows you to build a lot of the detail up for yourself once you get to know the characters which happens surprisingly quickly.
By the second half of the book the characters arrive in Spain to enjoy the bullfighting and non-stop partying which form part of the fiesta celebrations. The main female protagonist, Lady Brett Ashley, has slept with most of the group and would certainly have slept with the main character, Jake Barnes, if he didn’t suffer with impotency issues. They tell each other numerous times they are in love yet Brett is not interested in a relationship with Jake because he cannot satisfy her sexually. Brett appears to have no emotional attachment to the men she beds and views the sex as merely casual, this has far reaching affects when one of the group sleeps with Brett and believes it to be more than a fling which results in him being ostracised by the rest and treated as an outcast.
There was a rather unpleasant thread of racism within the story which cropped up from time to time mainly, but not exclusively, anti-Semitic in nature and after carrying out some research I was interested to note that critics at the time of the book’s release even accused Hemingway openly of being anti-Semitic himself. Make of that what you will.
Ultimately I was left satisfied with how the book ended. There were very few surprises and once you got to know the characters their actions were quite predictable and I saw the ending coming a mile away. Despite my largely negative feelings towards the characters I found them fascinating and towards the end the book was quite difficult to put down. I was surprised to find my attitude towards the characters changing. At first I was quite appalled by their lifestyle but then by the end of the second book I found myself pitying them. Their empty lives made me grateful to have a family. I suppose if a book makes you grateful to live the life you do it can’t be a bad book.
Since finishing the book I find I think of the characters and their fate quite often. Overall a very interesting, intriguing book I would definitely recommend and will read again someday.
Final verdict 4/5