The Irresistible Call of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises
I've read The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway, a total of nine times. I first read it at seventeen; I'm now twenty-four. Doing the math, it turns out that, on average, I read this book 1.29 times a year, by far the most well-worn thing on my shelf (the second-place book comes to a mere .57). So why do I keep coming back?
Set in the 1920s, The Sun Also Rises follows a group of dispirited expatriates, from their drinking too much in Paris to their "fiesta-ing" (drinking way too much) in Pamplona. Now you may cry, "Monotony!" and in the hands of a lesser writer, I might agree. But this is far from the truth. You see, these characters are morally broken; they've been through a meaningless war and seen the world change into an unruly place, where romanticism and heroes can no longer survive; where everyone is bankrupt in their own way and always paying for it; where they've little control over anything.
Emerging from the group is Jake Barnes, an American newspaper correspondent. Like the rest of the group, Jake fills his time with drink and banter in cafes late into the night. But as he comes home and tries to sleep -- without the company (or rather the distraction) of alcohol or conversation -- the normally stoic Jake is forced to face his agony. Having been wounded in the war -- an injury that's left him impotent -- he's been cheated out of the life he expected and struggles with feelings of inadequacy and incompleteness. His entire life has been maimed. Yet, what haunts him more is the ultimate consequence of such a wound: that he'll never be with the woman he loves, the one and only Brett Ashley.
Brett is lustful and beautiful -- an independent New Woman of the '20s, bobbed haircut and all -- but she, too, is damaged goods. She's engaged to one man, awaiting divorce from another, and although she's in love with Jake, she can never be with him; she's lost all self-respect and has fallen victim to her impulsiveness. In a group full of "chaps," she's always the source of tension, the common denominator. They all love her. And like Circe, she turns them into swine.
The Sun Also Rises established Hemingway as a major literary talent. He was praised for his mastery of dialogue and deceptively simple writing style (one that would damn a century of aspiring writers trying to copy it). And although he went on to write other classics -- A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls -- it's this book that brings me back 1.29 times a year. It's this book that stays most relevant, most modern. So much so, I'd say, that if you didn't know any better, you'd think it came out yesterday.
Curious just how much Jake drank during the novel? Here's a complete list.