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Wednesday What Reading

For Whom the Bell Tolls is The Book That Never Ends and I am way behind on everything else, so this week's Wednesday Reading Meme will be in Useless Placeholder form.

I have really mixed feelings about For Whom the Bell Tolls. I can't tell if I love it or hate it.

The characters are slowly sliding into focus and the deliberately stilted dialogue is becoming its own language, which was probably the plan all along. The weakest link right now is the character of Maria, a young and beautiful naif/victim whom the American POV character falls in love with in a kind of touchingly unimaginative High Hollywood register. This appears to be, if not the origin, at least a major distribution hub for the phrase "Did the earth move for you?" which was an established joke in the 1980s and which is repeated with a great deal of apparent seriousness here following one of the least evocative sex scenes I have ever encountered.

Anyway, Maria may come into her own at some point, or she might not. Right now, she is the Exotic Ingenue and shows no signs of being anything else, despite her traumatic backstory. The other female character, Pilar, has very little to do herself besides sling dubious exposition about womanhood and Spanishness, but she is so spiky and difficult and uncomfortably forthright that she ends up being a human being anyway.

Have any of you read this book? I'd be interested to know what you think. I think it could go either way: it might build to something great or just wander off into a ditch somewhere, depending on what happens in the next three hundred pages. If I had to guess, I would guess that it builds to something pretty good, with some great moments and a few more strained and stilted ones.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
lolmac
Jun. 4th, 2015 03:26 am (UTC)
I read it years ago, as a book on tape, when I was working for the Seattle Opera and listening to LOTS of books on tape. Most classics read very well, so I went for a lot of them.

I barely remember this one, or any of the other Hemingways I read -- which included The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms and The Old Man and the Sea. Or maybe I actually didn't read this one, I just think I did?

I eventually decided that I don't like Hemingway and never shall. IIRC, the men are all manly and the women are all cardboard, and this is never questioned as being anything but The Right Thing. The books build to what I suppose a Manly Man would regard as a Key Climax, and I mostly looked sideways and thought "That's it?"
evelyn_b
Jun. 4th, 2015 05:53 pm (UTC)
Pilar is sometimes a magnificent bullshit artist, though I don't know if she's a good character in spite of Hemingway or because of him. I'm inclined to think "in spite of," but I don't know if I'm being unfair or not. He's clearly made a lot of choices that you could argue for if you were a literary critic, but as a non-critical reader I don't quite trust him.

Maria is a little excruciating. She is a very young and naïve victim of sexual violence who is pitifully grateful for non-violent sex with the narrator and wants to go back to Missoula with him and be the best wife ever. There's no reason why she has to be cardboard, but she is. It feels like the narrative is always drenching her in beatific Old Hollywood vaseline lighting and drowning her out in saccharine violins and this seems to me like a very poor approach for a novel to bring to her situation, even if it is accurate to Robert Jordan's POV.

I also have trouble remembering which Hemingway novels I have read, because at one point long ago I began several but only made it through one. It was the one with Jordan from The Great Gatsby in it, only she was technically a different character. Hemingway novels don't seem to be my thing. I remember some of his short stories being good.

Edited at 2015-06-04 05:56 pm (UTC)
silverflight8
Jun. 7th, 2015 05:46 pm (UTC)
Oh man that book is on my to-read list but I keep looking at it (it's loaded on my ereader), think "oh not right now" and skip right to something more indulgent.
evelyn_b
Jun. 8th, 2015 07:12 pm (UTC)
I think it's worth reading, though it depends on your tolerance for Hemingwayisms. Mine is not high and I spent a lot of time being kind of low-level irritated with the proceedings, but there's plenty to like and/or admire as well.

It is (and feels) very long, and probably is better read in a lump over a few days than off-and-on over a longer time.
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