Saturday, March 01, 2008

Book Review: A Moveable Feast

Continuing my reading binge, I purchased another copy of Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, which is a memoir of his time in Paris with Hadley, his first wife, and their son. The book was written late in his life, and it is obvious that Hemingway was writing as an older man, forgetting things he was living viscerally as a young man. The older Hemingway is probably more forgiving and nostalgic than the younger man had been. His temper and occasional arrogance must have grated on his friends, just as some of his friends' foibles bothered him.

A Moveable Feast provides vignettes and short literary portraits of expatriate luminaries like Gertrude Stein, Ford Madox Ford, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Stein comes across as a bitter, backstabbing old harridan; Ford seems a bit strange and distracted, though one's understanding of the man is hard to gauge, as Hemingway obviously didn't like him much; EH has nothing but nice things to say about Ezra Pound; and Fitzgerald seems the strangest of the lot, alternately drunk, spoiled, addle-brained, and hypochondriac. Given the insanity of his wife Zelda, Fitzgerald's behavior is perhaps understandable. However, again given the 30-year gap between the Feast's writing and the events, I find some of EH's portraits problematic. Despite the fact that he was an active participant in the events he describes, it's almost as if he insists on writing a memoir in the blank-slate narrative voice that he invented. We have no idea of how he affected those around him, and one suspects that he had no idea, either. He is quick to judge and slow to analyze, particularly if any fault should have been his.

I confess that I went into A Moveable Feast with a slightly different motive from the last time I read it, which was just for sheer enjoyment. I was looking at it from a tourist's point of view, trying to get an idea of "where Hemingway walked" to see if it might benefit me to walk in the old master's footsteps. I suspect it's a temptation that has overcome many American writers since the '20s. However, I have no interest in writing as or what Hemingway wrote. Perhaps the literary tour of Paris, like the literary tour of Dublin, might be of value.

Aside from some street names and cafes, EH doesn't provide much detailed description of his world then. He talks instead of conversations he had, drinks he drank, and trips he took. Amazing how much influence the man has had, given the thinness of this volume, but it gives at least some flavor for his life at the time. In any case, this book, like everything EH wrote, is all about him.

No comments: