Book Notes: "A Farewell to Arms" by Ernest Hemingway

A Farewell to ArmsA Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I must admit that while I have been mesmerised by anything Hemingway for some time now, it was a bit of an effort to get through the first half of this book. While my attitude towards the book changed each time I got back into it, I think the source of the problem for me was the emptiness that can only be expressed by those who have first-hand experience of large-scale conventional war. Nonetheless, and despite the historical background to the story, I found it to be written clearly in the present tense. Yet I couldn’t help but sense the emptiness I had once felt when I was about seven years old. I remember visiting, for no particular reason, an old war widow, who gave me two shillings (five cent pieces - one for me and the other for my sister) but then she cried and pointed to the faded photographs of her husband and her brothers who were all killed in the Second World War. The empty feeling of the interior of her dark house with its art deco furniture and the smell of stale tobacco smoke accompanied me throughout “A Farewell to Arms” and I think I avoided it until I decided that I would finish it off in one go. As the climax emerged suddenly towards the end of the book, I was hooked and couldn’t put it down. By this stage of the plot the war was almost an afterthought for the main characters and bits of classic Hemingway emerge (beards, boxing, and booze). But by the end, I needed some quiet time to emotionally recover. I’ve never cried from reading a book before. I still don’t like this book. Nevertheless, it is truly magnificent and how somebody in their mid-twenties could comprehend so much beggars belief. It can only be genius.

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