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January 28, 2012 / Rachel Bednarski

Review: A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway

“I’ve seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought. You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.” 

Written as a compilation of vignettes, or stories as Hemingway calls them, A Moveable Feast documents the expatriate lives of the lost generation of literati that congregated in Paris in the 1920s and the illicit lifestyles of the literary and artistic greats of the era: The masochistic, yet charmingly naïve narrative voice of Ernest Hemingway waxes ingenuously, presenting a devourable portrait of F. Scott Fitzgerald ‘s alcoholism and tumultuous marriage to Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein’s private relationships, T.S. Eliot’s financial misfortunes and Esra Pound’s philanthropism.

Hemingway, though, is careful to suggest that his novel be not read purely as autobiographical – ‘If the reader prefers, this book may be regarded as fiction. But there is always the chance that such a book of fiction may thriw some light on what has been writen as fact.’ – Like every piece of writing, A Moveable Feast is certainly largely constructed and the characters should therefore be read as persona, rather than accurate portrayals of the author’s contemporaries.

Nevertheless, art is always self=reflexive and the novel provides a penetrating portrait of the romantic, early twentieth century literary scene – living on journalism jobs, forgoing food in ordeer to afford to read and write, taking off to Spain and Switzerland and Austria when the fancy arises – the novel exudes romance, albeit a romance perhaps bestowed upon it by twenty-first-century readers nostalgic for the 1920s Parisian artists life.

Yet it is the city which radiates at the novel’s core. The novel has been described as a love letter to Paris, and there is no more perfect a summary than that. Paris is the true hero of A Moveable Feast.

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.

Of all the gossip that dominates the narrative, it is the relationship between Hemingway and his wife Hadley that really resonates. Their relationship is beautiful, innocent and charming and the reader is left feeling they have invaded a private world:

‘We looked at each other and laughed and then she said one of the secret things … 

How long will it take?” 

Maybe four months to be just the same.” 

Really?” 

Really.” 

Four months more?” 

I think so.” 

We sat and she said something secret and I said something secret back.’

The intimate, ambiguous manner in which the two communicate evokes Hemingway’s signature, poetically simple sentences which always contain so much more meaning than is apparent upon first reading.

Much of the novel is comprised of the fictional Hemingway’s thoughts on and experiences of writing. The arduous, demanding, unyielding experience of writing, which only serves in driving Hemingway to more determination to sculpt an identity and prove himself through his craft.

Yet another testament to the in-necessity of length for length’s sake, A Moveable Feast is perfect in it’s brevity. The writing is hilarious, tragic, didactic, both indulgent and tortuous, and is a manifestation of Hemingway’s irrefutable genius.

 

Caution: I advise not watching Midnight in Paris whilst reading A Moveable Feast, it’s a sure-fire way to give yourself an unfavourable dose of Golden Age Thinking.

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3 Comments

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  1. bibliopirate / Jan 28 2012 6:05 pm

    I can’t remember the last time I read Hemmingway. I’ll have to go back to him sometime.
    I loved his character in A Moveable Feast.

    • blookblog / Jan 29 2012 2:31 pm

      I didn’t want to love him but I can’t help it, he’s just so funny! Hemingway’s work always rewards a reread I think 🙂

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