Tuesday, April 16, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Once upon a time (in college), I was a Hemingway fan, although probably a lukewarm one. I loved The Sun Also Rises, but I found the few others I read to be less memorable. (Maybe that means I should try again. My memory is pretty poor.) One book I always intended to read but never got around to was The Old Man and the Sea. It’s the last book published in his lifetime and it was awarded a Pulitzer, so it’s an important addition to Hemingway’s canon. Still, the topic–an old guy goes fishing–didn’t grab me. Yet it’s always bothered me that I haven’t read it.

So, for my Back to the Classics Challenge, 20th century choice– it’s The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.

Does everyone know this story? An aged, unlucky but still crafty, Cuban fisherman has not caught anything in eighty-four days. He had an apprentice, but this boy/young man has been ordered away to work with a luckier crew, so the old man is now all alone. On the eighty-fifth day, he sets out for deep water, his usual practice, and this time. . .

I probably should leave out the spoilers, despite how well known this tale is. Let’s just say, there is an epic battle of old man against the fish he wants to catch. I don’t know anything about this sort of fishing, but I can say that the narrative is an odd mixture of dull yet tension-filled, and richly detailed yet not very credible. He spends a long time trying to bring in this fish. Things don’t end well, but, considering where the story started, and how badly it might have ended, I suppose it didn’t end as badly as all that. So in some ways, it seemed almost pointless. In other ways, it is remarkably heroic.

Of course, Hemingway always has a point to make. There is enough here that literary critics (and high school and college students) have been picking The Old Man and the Sea apart for more than fifty years. It’s everything from Christian allegory to a depiction of Hemingway himself, with fishing representing the writing process. I suppose a true Hemingway fan could read this book over and over and find something new in it each time. It was a fine tale. Just what I expected. But I think once will be enough for me.

Come see what classics we're reading at the Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Sarah Reads Too Much.

1 comment:

  1. it's funny that you should post this now--or perhaps, rather, that I should read this now. My husband and I were just talking about Hemingway and Old Man & the Sea last week, and then a coworker and I were discussing it. I read it back in junior high, so it's been more than two decades since I last encountered it, and I'd just about decided that reading it as an adult would be good. Your review just may be the tipping point for me. i don't admire Hemingway as a man or a writer very much, but I shouldn't judge his best-known work by the reader that I was at 15.