I’ve started on Hemingway for Flips Flipping Pages’ May book discussion, which requires us to read at least one work by Hemingway and one biography (including memoirs, letter collections and the like).
I’ve decided to start with “The Old Man and the Sea,” mainly because I’ve never read it — the only Hemingway I’ve read is “Fiesta”/ “The Sun Also Rises” for my Great Books class in university. I’m still deciding which biographical work I’ll read (also I am trying to recall whether I already have one in Mount TBR).
The book that won him the Pulitzer in 1953 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954, “The Old Man and the Sea” is set in the Gulf Stream off Cuba, and tells of an old fisherman, Santiago, who, after a long, dry spell, manages to hook a large marlin.
Actually I only meant to read a bit of it, to get a feel of the novel, but was surprised to find myself reading it all the way through, in roughly one sitting (1.2 hours to be exact!). I’ve heard a lot of people say this is one of the most boring books they’ve ever read, but I found myself enjoying it — it’s been a typically busy work week for me, and there’s a calming quality to his writing that drew my attention.
The writing is spare, but among the most beautiful I have ever read. It is hard not to be moved by lines such as “Why do old men wake so early? Is it to have one longer day?” or “A man can be destroyed but not defeated,” or “Why did they make birds so delicate and fine as those sea swallows when the ocean can be so cruel?”
It was so atmospheric I could almost smell the sea breeze and hear the lapping of the waves. And the way he writes about the old man Santiago is amazing — he never describes the character explicitly, but he dots the narrative with astounding detail that you feel like you know the character intimately, down to the last crease on his palm.
I thought it would be a slow burn kind of novel with nothing much happening, so I was pretty much taken aback when it started to evolve into one of the most dramatic man vs. nature plots I have ever encountered. In fact, there was a point in the story when I was shushing everyone around me because I wanted to concentrate: I was sitting at the edge of my seat and gripping my Kobo so hard because it was getting quite intense (basically from the circling marlin up until the sharks)!
I may have just fallen in love with Hemingway. And I don’t remember feeling the same way when I read “The Sun Also Rises” years ago, and it’s not a book that really stands out in my memory — maybe I just wasn’t ready for it then. I’m planning to reread it in the next couple of weeks, so that should be interesting.
Looking forward to reading more Hemingway for next month’s discussion!
The Old Man and the Sea, ebook, 5/5 stars