This was my first ever Hemingway, and I was a bit nervous about it because Hemingway as a writer comes with so much baggage – he’s one of The Greats, he was a terrible person by all* accounts, fans call him Papa (yikes???), people still to this day hold Hemingway lookalike contests…
But here’s a spoiler: he’s considered to be a great writer because, at least from The Old Man and The Sea, he is a pretty great writer.
The Old Man and The Sea is one of those rare books where what you see (in the title) really is what you get (in the book). It’s the story of an old man out to sea, and his relationship with the sea, and the sea’s relationship with everything, and how sometimes even when you lose you win.
The old man is a fisherman and he’s getting a bit over the hill and having fewer and fewer good fishing days. He has a loyal friend in a local boy who makes sure he’s looked after and helps him out as much as he can despite having been assigned to a different boat by his family, who after all need to eat too. And I wonder if sometimes when you win, do you lose something too? In backing the winning fisherman, do the boy’s family lose something intangible? Who knows?
I deliberately haven’t read around the book before writing this, because I like the idea of it just being my feelings rather than a school essay, but I did get to cheat a bit this time because the copy I read was an old school copy (not mine!) so I got the benefit of highlighting and disinterested student notes to let me know when something particularly symbolic was happening.
Anyway, I’m not going to say a huge amount because it’s been talked about in much better ways by much cleverer people than me. I will say: please, stop trying to emulate him. Having seen his style in action I can now recognise it everywhere else, and look, Hemingway gave us his entire oeuvre of iceberg prose! You don’t have to try to mimic it!
I was surprised by the fact that the old man was allowed to bring in the remains of the fish – I hadn’t thought the sea (or Hemingway) would be kind enough to leave him that proof of his battle. The whole story was more gentle than I expected. The old man is treated with respect even by the narrative. I was so relieved and even proud when he made it back to shore that I barely remembered he’d lost his battle and the chance to earn some money. It was peaceful to be in the old man’s head. It was genuinely another perspective, and it’s stuck with me since. I hope I never end up in such a fierce battle, but if I do, I’ll remember the old man and try to acquit myself well.
*Oh we know there’s always one but his opinions don’t count here