Goodreads Review: A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

One star review, originally posted here on December 15, 2017.

I am pretty shocked that my 2nd 1-star review since joining Goodreads a few years ago is going to this (supposed) masterpiece. But there it is. I somehow managed to make it all the way to my mid 30’s without ever touching Hemingway, and decided it was high time to check out this titan of literature. I’d heard that in real like he was a big alky, but that also his writing was genius. And after reading a handful of reviews Farewell to Arms seemed like it was supposed to be among his best work. So I dove right in, fully assuming I would be wow-ed.

The 1st page or so was promising. Then the book took a nosedive the moment we met the love interest. Three days later and I’ve already forgotten her name, that’s how vapid and useless she was. A cardboard cutout character whose entire purpose was to say thing like “I will be a good wife darling” and to be there for our protagonist to do sex to. Still, when we first meet Miss Ladybrains, I thought, well, as long as she’s not a major character this might still be fine. Or maybe part of our protagonists’ personality is that he does not see the people around him as human beings but over the course of the book he’ll learn to do so, etc. But no, instead the vast majority of the book is just this dude listing his alcoholic beverages and then boinking 2D Barbie while she bends over backwards (easy to do when you are 2-dimensional) to be amenable to him. God knows why she would bother to like this dude since he himself has virtually nothing going for him. I’ve seen this book described as a beautiful love story but it’s tough to believe that considering these people never find out a goddamn thing about one another.

Towards the beginning this book reminded me of Catch-22, which also had problematic treatment of its female characters. But I still loved Catch-22 because it had so much else to say, was smart and clever and well-written. And while the characters treated women poorly, at no point are we the reader expected to embrace or agree with this treatment; you could still enjoy the book while accepting that its characters had character flaws. I could not quite make this thinking work for Farewell to Arms, though, not just because this shitty depiction was so central, but also because the book had nothing else to say. I was under the impression that it was supposed to be a deep and emotional work about the affects of war, etc, but our protagonist barely seems affected. We hear about the war somewhere in the distance I guess, meanwhile we’re just sitting around getting hammered and having everyone love us for some reason that I never quite understood. We get one tiny section of actual war-related content when, towards the end, our protagonist has to retreat, and that part was at least somewhat interesting to read, but it was too little too late, and I don’t feel like anything was actually getting said about war during that part (or any other part, for that matter).

I guess I can respect that Hemingway’s short dialogue-only writing was new and revolutionary at the time, but beyond that I’m confused beyond belief that this guy is supposed to be a literary genius. And it was especially disappointing given that we know he can keep his shit together long enough to write a beautiful 1st page before he starts fading. This sexist, lazy assclown is lumped in with Steinbeck? You have got to be kidding me.


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