SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: June – ‘Everybody Behaves Badly’ by Lesley M M Blume

everybody-behaves-badly

The making of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, the outsize personalities who inspired it, and the vast changes it wrought on the literary world

In the summer of 1925, Ernest Hemingway and a clique of raucous companions traveled to Pamplona, Spain, for the town’s infamous running of the bulls. Then, over the next six weeks, he channeled that trip’s maelstrom of drunken brawls, sexual rivalry, midnight betrayals, and midday hangovers into his groundbreaking novel The Sun Also Rises. This revolutionary work redefined modern literature as much as it did his peers, who would forever after be called the Lost Generation. But the full story of Hemingway’s legendary rise has remained untold until now. 

Lesley Blume resurrects the explosive, restless landscape of 1920s Paris and Spain and reveals how Hemingway helped create his own legend. He made himself into a death-courting, bull-fighting aficionado; a hard-drinking, short-fused literary genius; and an expatriate bon vivant. Blume’s vivid account reveals the inner circle of the Lost Generation as we have never seen it before, and shows how it still influences what we read and how we think about youth, sex, love, and excess. 
Cover and blurb via amazon
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This month, Spain Book Review goes a tad off-road, with Everybody Behaves Badly. Not strictly about Spain or written in Spain, but since it’s about Ernest Hemingway getting his Spain on, I figured it works just fine. The book covers both Spain and Hemingway’s time in Paris. By 1921, Hemingway was already on his way to literary famousness, but was in need of the great American novel. So when handsome young Ernest headed to Spain with a troupe of friends in 1925, their trip would end in the genius that is The Sun Also Rises.
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The book starts out with the early years in Paris and how Hemingway felt the desire to add a novel to his career, since he had only published short stories at that point. Hemingway and his new wife Hadley go to Paris, as members of the lost generation, and the author goes into full detail of the lifestyle of a man in need of literary success. The book focuses heavily on details of Hemingway’s early life, telling both a story and writing a biography in one.
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Everyone knows the story of The Sun Also Rises (this link has my review if you don’t) – a group of friends go to Pamplona, enjoy some bullfighting and a random fishing trip, have affairs, drink waaaay too much and the whole escapade turns to hell. Everybody Behaves Badly is the real life excursion. Hemingway and wife Hadley went to Pamplona in 1923 and 1924, and in 1925, went with a group of friends – Harold Loeb, Duff Twysden, Bill Smith, Pat Guthrie and Donald Ogden Stewart. What unfolds is what Hemingway could later turn into his famous novel. Hemingway, now famous for womanising, was with his wife but was interested in Duff Twysden, as was writer Harold Loeb. And we all know how well romantic rivalry mixes with alcohol and bravado. The back story of the fateful 1925 trip is spelled out in great detail as the members of the lost generation explore sexual freedom and creative processes on what was supposed to be writing trip about bullfighting but ends up with jealousy and fist-fighting.
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The last portion of the book is dedicated to the editing and publishing of The Sun Also Rises. Hemingway’s life is really taking off, and his wife (and now young son) are not fitting in with his choices. Hemingway nicely starts an affair with Pauline Pfeiffer. Hemingway ruthless cut and edited his book to create a great piece of work, and decides to also edit out his own wife. Hemingway needed to get in with a new publisher, Scribner’s, a challenge in itself, all while working greats of the day, like F. Scott Fitzgerald, to create a book which has been in print for 90 years now.
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Hemingway’s life has been viewed from every angle, but this, while not all new info, tells the story of the pivotal time of Hemingway’s life. Much is made of his life during the Spanish Civil War, but this gives us a new insight to Hemingway in Paris, his early romantic life and his lifestyle in these early days. My dream Spanish road trip (a game played a few years back) was with Hemingway and Dalí, and reading this book made me even more convinced I made the right choices. My own bullfighting research trips don’t get this wild (thank God), and I’m glad to have read this behind-the-scenes moment in time. Perfect for lovers of Spain, the 1920’s, Hemingway, or like me, all three.

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SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Sun Also Rises’ by Ernest Hemingway

original cover 1926

Synopsis –

The quintessential novel of the Lost Generation, The Sun Also Rises is one of Ernest Hemingway’s masterpieces and a classic example of his spare but powerful writing style. A poignant look at the disillusionment and angst of the post-World War I generation, the novel introduces two of Hemingway’s most unforgettable characters: Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley. The story follows the flamboyant Brett and the hapless Jake as they journey from the wild nightlife of 1920s Paris to the brutal bullfighting rings of Spain with a motley group of expatriates. It is an age of moral bankruptcy, spiritual dissolution, unrealized love, and vanishing illusions. First published in 1926, The Sun Also Rises helped to establish Hemingway as one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century.

The protagonist of The Sun Also Rises is Jake Barnes, an American journalist (surprise, surprise) who lives in Paris. Jake is in love with an Englishwoman named Lady Brett Ashley, who has been divorced twice and has an attitude that is hard to come to grips with. Brett embodies everything the 1920’s wanted to let shine in women – sexual freedom with many love affairs, a short haircut and a party lifestyle. Jack and Brett are the epitome of ‘the Lost Generation’, those found without a sense of life or purpose in the aftermath of the first world war.

The book comes in three parts – book one opens in Paris. Jake meets with his friend Robert, before picking up a prostitute. Jake’s seemingly miserable attitude is there from the very beginning, and only seems to increase when he bumps into Brett and one of her men in a nightclub. Brett confesses she loves Jake, but they know they can never be together. Jake suffered an injury in the war and is impotent. While it is never openly discussed, the injury makes itself known very early in the story, as is Brett’s desire for sex.

Fast forward to book two, and Jake’s friend Bill arrives New York, and Brett’s fiancée Mike from Scotland.  Jake and Bill go fishing in Pamplona in northern Spain, but Robert decides to stay in Pamplona to wait for Brett and Mike, because he and Brett had a tryst weeks earlier and hates the fact she is with Mike. Jake and Bill have an enjoyable trip and come back to Pamplona to drink a lot, something that is a ‘theme supreme’ throughout the book. As the alcohol flows, the group slowly turns on Robert, who is bombarded with anti-semitic jokes.  The group do everything Pamplona can offer – eat, drink, the running of the bulls, bullfighting and generally get on each other’s nerves. Brett has another affair, with a 19-year-old bullfighter named Romero, and eventually her lovers – Romero, Jake, Robert and Mike end up all professing love and generally punching each other as much as they feel like – which is a lot.  Robert crushes young Romero in a fight, but he still manages to succeed in the fiesta bullfight.

Book Three starts with the aftermath of the disastrous trip to Pamplona. The group parts ways and Jake goes to San Sebastian, but as he prepares to leave for Paris, he gets a telegram. Brett has gone to Madrid with young Romero, and (as with all stupid love affairs) things have gone sour. Jake goes to her rescue in Madrid, but Brett decides to go home to Mike. The closing scene is Jake and Brett together, wondering how things could have been between them.

It would be easy to sympathise with the lost generation of the 20’s, after all they had endured. Sadly, with many of these characters, they are unlikable, but not unreadable. Hemingway gave Paris and Pamplona a distinct feel, Paris of general listlessness and Pamplona of fire and drama. The scenes in Paris can be tough – the cynic in me wanted to shake the sorry lot of characters – rather than lost, they came off as a bit lazy. Brett is a character I thought I could identify with – independent, dismissive of cultural norms, her own woman. Instead, when she got dumped in Madrid, I was pleased. She played with people, and while reasonably honest about her behaviour, she pitted men against one another, without thoughts of anyone but herself. Strong women can have a conscience, but Brett is sadly lacking in morality, no matter the time period she lived in. Some noble actions are timeless.

The book relies on plenty of ‘what-if’ scenarios, something all can identify with and the story moves at a good pace. Some have called it anti-semitic due to the number of times that Robert’s faith is mentioned (A lot. Too much? Perhaps). Masculinity and sexuality play their roles, consistent with the time period Hemingway wrote the book, when women were gaining some semblance of independence and free to explore sex almost as much as men (though in 2013, things still haven’t caught up completely). Some characters, such as masculine bullfighter Romero, struggle with the emergence of women’s sexuality and his perceived changes to their ‘femininity’. Love and sex are bantered back and forth with a male character who gives love but not sex, and a woman who is the reverse, something readers should appreciate.

The Sun Also Rises is an excellent novel. It deals with a yearning that strikes every person during their lifetime. While some characters are more difficult to connect with, their emotions, Jake’s in particular, are very real. Whether they are lost people in search of the meaning in life, or a bunch of lazy drunks, is up to the reader. Personally, to me they are a bit of both. Even great love doesn’t always work out, and in my opinion, Jake had a lucky escape from Brett’s clutches.

Next week – Noble prize winner  The Old Man and the Sea

SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ by Ernest Hemingway

First edition cover 1940

Synopsis –

In 1937 Ernest Hemingway traveled to Spain to cover the civil war there for the North American Newspaper Alliance. Three years later he completed the greatest novel to emerge from “the good fight,” For Whom the Bell Tolls. The story of Robert Jordan, a young American in the International Brigades attached to an antifascist guerilla unit in the mountains of Spain, it tells of loyalty and courage, love and defeat, and the tragic death of an ideal. In his portrayal of Jordan’s love for the beautiful Maria and his superb account of El Sordo’s last stand, in his brilliant travesty of La Pasionaria and his unwillingness to believe in blind faith, Hemingway surpasses his achievement in The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms to create a work at once rare and beautiful, strong and brutal, compassionate, moving and wise. “If the function of a writer is to reveal reality,” Maxwell Perkins wrote to Hemingway after reading the manuscript, “no one ever so completely performed it.” Greater in power, broader in scope, and more intensely emotional than any of the author’s previous works, it stands as one of the best war novels of all time.

“There are many who do not know they are fascists but will find it out when the time comes.”
― Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

Many foreign writers went to Spain to cover the civil war in the 30’s, and fine selection of them told the situation in different ways, all coming together to tell a truthful account of war. Among these writers was Ernest Hemingway, who went on to write one of the greatest novels of all time, For Whom The Bell Tolls. There are only a tiny amount of tales written that capture the bitterness, the desperation, and the tragic outpouring of war. Hemingway succeeded in captivating readers and opening up the reality of Spain’s front lines, through real life situations and experiences that cannot be imagined.

The book tells the story of Robert Jordan, a journalist who travels to Spain as part of the volunteer International Brigade. Jordan, who is experienced with dynamite, is ordered to destroy a bridge outside the town of Segovia, just north-west of Madrid. Jordan and a group of Republican fighters, including Pablo and his wife Pilar, and a young woman named Maria, are all aware that their mission will almost certainly kill them. As the group go ahead with their operation, Jordan finds himself falling in love with Maria, who has suffered the worst atrocities of the Falange (fascist group following Franco’s rebel forces), which only complicates Jordan’s quarrel with death. When a fellow Republican group is caught by the rebels, Jordan’s team falls into disarray and betrayal as the reality of being against a far-stronger enemy begins to become clear. While the band all have honest intentions, fear and misery overcome the group. In a final stand, Jordan is forced to ambush the enemy, just as the world around the idealism of the Republican causes hits the darkness.

One thing readers need to come to grips with is Hemingway’s use of thou/thee, which is a translation of the Spanish tu, meaning you. Once readers have got the hang of using the old adage, it becomes enjoyable to read. The novel is written in the  third person limited omniscient narrative, in my opinion the best of its kind for this book. By giving the protagonist an all-knowing all-seeing narrative, as well as thoughts of other characters, the whole picture become more realistic and heartfelt.

Many themes are considered in the book, the main being death. Each character needs to come to terms with the fact escape while under enemy attack is unlikely. Suicide is also on the minds of each character, as it is their only alternative to an evil death in enemy hands. True to form with the civil war, politics is explored, and the ideal that men and women are equal (touted by the Republicans, hated by the Fascists) is given a real chance through the character of Pilar, who threatens to be the star of the entire story.

Due to Hemingway’s real experiences in the field during the civil war, the opportunity to have scenes well described has been used superbly. Readers have no need to have a good knowledge of Spain or the civil war because Hemingway brings it to life for all. The author had been trying to use internal dialogue correctly for years, and this is the book that cracked it with aplomb. The book was also the birth of the famous line “Did you feel the earth move? (or in Hemingway’s case, Did thee feel the earth move?). With the use of fictional characters, those based on real life figures Hemingway met, and also famous figures of the war, the book comes to life with a richly uplifting and painful novel that is a must-read for everyone.

No need to be a Spain or civil war lover, because you haven’t read until you have finished For Whom The Bell Tolls. The book should be rated 15/10. Life and death, ideology versus reality, Robert Jordan is a character that comes along once in a generation. Even if you have read it before, read it again, because books change as people change. This novel just gets better and better.

Next week – The Sun Also Rises