Friday, 18 January 2013

Book Notes: "Hemingway: The 1930s" by Michael S. Reynolds

Hemingway: The 1930sHemingway: The 1930s by Michael S. Reynolds

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was saddened to learn, as I went to write this review, that Michael Reynolds died in 2000. Initially, the concept of the book made me wonder whether Reynolds' work is merely a retelling of the master's work: whether Reynolds had much talent at all and simply used another's carefully-crafted public image as a topic for elevating one's own status. Moreover, my first thoughts were that chronologically-ordered books tend to be a hard slog to read. Australian war historian Lex McAulay came to mind as he writes very well-referenced, precisely-detailed and scholarly work which can be incredibly difficult to read other than for research purposes and I couldn't help seeing the similarities in style from a "readability" perspective. Nonetheless, Reynolds successfully melds chronology, at-times lengthy quotations, details and historical context with his own blend of character depictions and descriptions, without ever appearing to over-step the mark and over-dramatise history in what is an essentially good, scholarly and entertaining read. Reynolds' ability to capture the history of a character who was synonymous with the spirit of so many of the more romantic elements of the twentieth century is remarkable. I was reading Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast" and a number of his famous short stories while also reading Reynolds' work, an approach which I intend to continue as I read and study more of Hemingway's legacy while reading Reynolds' "The Paris Years". Nevertheless, I couldn't help but notice how the chronologically-ordered chapters move from year to year until the last few chapters where the years are suddenly jammed together as if the author became frustrated with the approach and forsook the planned structure in order to finish the book using less words than originally intended. On learning of Reynolds' death, and reflecting on Hemingway's witnessing the beginnings of his own legacy, however, i cannot help but think that Reynolds' work stands on its own two feet and is worthy of much praise as a historical piece. While not in the same vein as Hemingway's oft more glamorous career, I can not help but think that Reynolds' lifetime effort to record for posterity the lifetime of another was, in its own way, a life worth living. With that in mind, I suspect the true greatness of Reynolds' work is in the entire series on Hemingway, and not just this one volume.

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