There's a sort of mantlepiece shelf in our library -- I say a sort of mantlepiece because it's over a sort-of fireplace: a fireplace-ish niche which lacks that essential element, a chimney, because once upon a time it contained a Victorian era ventless gas heater. This shelf I claimed, not long after we started unpacking books, as my aspiration shelf, the place where I line up all the books I intend to read. There they stand until I pull them down, read them, and return them to their appropriate shelf.
One night, for no particular reason other than I realized the aspiration shelf was short on fiction and because one of the gaps in my literary knowledge is that I'd never actually read anything by him, I added The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell To Arms to the aspiration shelf, and a couple nights ago while I was wandering about the library kibitzing MrsDarwin's novel revisions, I pulled The Sun Also Rises down and started reading it.
As I say, I'd never actually read any Hemingway before, though of course I'd heard roughly the same jokes and observations that anyone who hangs around book people will have soaked up about him. He writes in short sentences. Declarative sentences. And he's a masculine writer. Writing about war. And drinking. And bullfighting. And drinking. And blood. And drinking.
Somehow I'd got it into my head that reading Hemingway would be roughly as difficult a haul as reading Faulkner was a couple years ago, only with tortuously short sentences instead of tortuously long ones. As such, I was surprised to find Hemingway's prose to be almost completely transparent. Indeed, I wouldn't have noticed him to be any particular kind of prose stylist if I hadn't been assured ahead of time that he was known for his direct and vigorous prose. It just reads... normal. Thinking on this, it occurs to me that I normally associate a distinctive style either with some kind of dialect or effort to convey thought, or with the use of especially ornate or poetic diction while writing prose. Short, clear sentences that tell you what is going on just seem like the modern norm.
Though since Hemingway is so noted for his style, I now find myself wondering if rather than being a "typical example" of modern prose style he's something of the model of what has since become common.
Either way, I find myself quite enjoying The Sun Also Rises, and it even works as a lunch reading or bedtime reading book, in a way that Literature typically doesn't for me.
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