Book Review: A Farewell to Arms

Book Review: A Farewell to Arms

Happy New Year! As part of this blog, I decided to read and review one book a month. For December I chose A Farewell to Arms as my book of the month. Please read on for my book review & analysis…

Let’s dive in! A Farewell to Arms, written by Ernest Hemingway is his second novel. Published by Scribner Books in 1929, only three years after his first novel, The Sun Also Rises. A Farewell to Arms is regarded as one of Hemingway’s most popular novels and in many ways is what put Hemingway in the literary spotlight.

Ernest Hemingway is considered one of the most influential writers in American literature. Nearly every literate person has heard of Hemingway, many of whom have read one, if not several of his novels. Most high schools and universities feature a Hemingway book on their reading list, and many films, TV shows, books, etc. refer to Hemingway in some form on a regular basis.

“All thinking men are atheists.” 

― Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

Hemingway is known most notably for his distinctive writing style. Detailed descriptions, romanticized language, and exaggerated scenes are not something you’ll find in a piece by Hemingway. Instead, he enjoyed a more straightforward kind of writing that was unapologetic, simple, and also searching for the truth. Many attribute his unique writing style to his time as a journalist.

Prior to winning awards such as the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Hemingway was a reporter and journalist. The abrupt and factual nature of reporting influenced Hemingway as he attempted to write in the truest way he could. His goal was not to influence people through manipulation of a story, instead he wanted to deliver raw content and allow the reader to discover the message, emotion, or whatever else on their own.

“You could not go back. If you did not go forward what happened?”
― Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to Arms is set during World War I, focusing on the Italian campaign of the war. The novel follows American, Frederic Henry who is fighting alongside the Italian Army, not the United States as a member of the ambulance corps. This first-person account of the war focuses on several contradictory themes… War and love, masculinity and femininity, along with fear and courage. Hemingway has a tendency to bring contradiction into his writing.

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.” 

― Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

The story follows Henry as he meets an English nurse, Catherine and begins to develop feelings for her. Shortly after their meeting, Henry returns to the front lines and eventually gets hurt. The hospital he is transferred too during his recovery has Catherine as one of the regular nurses. Thus begins their love affair while he recovers. Henry is discharged and sent back to war, all the while he struggles with being away from Catherine. Hemingway takes the reader through a whirlwind romance, the struggles war brings, along with a mix of unique characters like the priest, local elderly man, Henry’s long time war friend, to name a few.

“Maybe…you’ll fall in love with me all over again.”

“Hell,” I said, “I love you enough now. What do you want to do? Ruin me?”

“Yes. I want to ruin you.”

“Good,” I said. “That’s what I want too.” 

― Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

The tragically beautiful simplistically of the story Hemingway writes is what makes it so good… and so Hemingway. Most of his novels are not warm happy ending type stories. Hemingway writes truth and sometimes the truth just isn’t tied up in a neat little bow. Without giving too much away the story doesn’t necessarily have a positive ending. It’s pretty bleak actually, but I think that’s part of the romance of it all. The writing is great, top notch, classic Hemingway… and so naturally I love it! I like the fast paced back and forth conversations between characters that you have to really focus on, otherwise you’ll get lost in whose talking. I like having to piece together the plot without much assistance from the author. I like that Hemingway makes you work for it.

“Vice is a wonderful thing,” Catherine said. “The people who go in for it seem to have good taste about it.”
― Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

What I didn’t like so much was some of the dragged out wartime scenes. I get it, I get that this is a war story, I get that Hemingway fought in the war, I get that he likes writing about the war, I get that this whole book is set during the war… war, war, war. And don’t get me wrong, I really love war stories. Some of my favorite memoirs are war memoirs from soldiers in WWI & II. With that being said, sometimes I got a little bored by the war. I wanted more of the romance, maybe there was something about me just recently getting married and it being Christmastime, but I wanted so more of that mushy, lovey dovey stuff. I feel like Hemingway put a lot of it in, but I wish there was more about what each other they liked, or how they fell in love, or what made the love feel so strong, etc. But, that just isn’t Hemingway’s style, which I know and it is part of the reason why I love it so much. The fact that he doesn’t put it all together, explaining every emotion, every kiss, everything big decision, or “I love you” is what makes it so good. You get to fill in the blanks on your own.

So, here we are… would I recommended this book? Um, YES! Firstly, you’ll be hard pressed to find me not suggest reading a Hemingway novel. I am a fan, okay… Hemingway will always a have a place on my book shelf. If you are looking for a well written novel that will give you that tragic love/war story then this it. The chapters are short so it is a rather quick read and if you already enjoy Hemingway you’ll love it. If you’ve never read Hemingway before, then this isn’t a bad place to start either.

“My life used to be full of everything. Now if you aren’t with me I haven’t a thing in the world.”
― Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

Cheers & stay chic!