Book ReviewsClassics Club

Farewell to Arms: Review

farewellWhen a book comes from the pen of a Nobel prize-winning author and it’s his first best-seller, my expectation is that I’ll be offered something special. But the only sensation brought on by reading Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms was one of mystification about why this novel is rated so highly.

The story is a romance set in Italy during World War 1 between an American serving with the Italian forces and a British nurse. It’s based on Hemingway’s own experiences while serving as an ambulance driver on the Austrian-Italian front. The driver and the nurse meet, have a passionate affair, flee the country and spend months billing and cooing in a snowy idyll somewhere in Switzerland.  Which doesn’t sound too bad a plot. The problem for me was that the story is related with all the passion of someone reading the back of a cornflakes box.

I understand that Hemingway was striving for an ultra lean writing style; one that avoided complicated syntax and eliminated what he considered unnecessary punctuation. Where many authors used the comma to connect phrases, Hemingway preferred to use ‘and’ as his connector. The result is so pared down it felt drained of all colour and vitality. Conversations between the two love birds were rendered in such a simple way that it was very hard to get inside their heads and to experience the intensity of the emotion they felt for each other. In short I found the whole thing under-whelming.


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

6 thoughts on “Farewell to Arms: Review

  • I like his minimalism for the most part. I think in a romance, it didn’t work quite so well. I love The Old Man and the Sea, and The Sun Also Rises.

    • I might read another one of his at some point Nishita – just not in a desperate hurry to do so when there are so many other books

  • I agree. As much as we want to admire Hemingway for the minimalism, it’s hard to do so. I didn’t feel the romance. I find his style rather limiting. It could work for others, but I want beautiful words to string themselves together and create an illuminating tapestry that will move me to the core.

    • what a poetic streak you have – an illuminating tapestry. Like that!

  • I can see where you would feel that it was underwhelming. For me, though, that surface flatness somehow managed to convey all the boiling activity underneath. But maybe that’s because I read the book when I was like 16, and at that time, everything seemed infused with passionate longing 😉

    • I don’t think I was much into subtlety when I was 16 so if I’d read it then I’d have been even more baffled….


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