Review: A Farewell to Arms
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway is my first foray into Hemingway’s writing, and my second novel this summer about World War I (my first was All Quiet on the Western Front). For those unfamiliar with the novel, it is the story of Frederick Henry, an American ambulance driver on the Italian front. It follows his increased confusion and disillusionment with the war, and his relationship with English nurse Catherine Barkley.
Written in sparse, terse, prose with script-like dialogue, it is, in some places a challenge to read. Adjectives and descriptions, when used, were mostly present in battle scenes, like the retreat at Caporetto, or when Henry was injured. They weren’t used to describe emotions or relationships, but the actual physical setting, which to some extent, makes the book jarring, but in other ways makes it completely brilliant. There is something to be said about the way that Hemingway used restraint in his writing.
Hemingway, an ambulance driver himself on the Italian front is challenged the way in which the reader viewed the war. Henry is constantly encountering individuals who honor him for his service in the war, has medals of honor and valor pressed upon him that have no meaning- he wasn’t rescuing anyone when he was injured, he was eating dinner, and yet no matter what he tells anyone, they won’t listen. The situation is repeated when he is captured by the Italian army police, who are executing those separated from their regiment with charges of desertion. No one is listening to the explanation of the men who have been captured, they simply read the charge and shoot them.
Henry is an increasingly rudderless and disillusioned character who is serving on the Italian front with those increasingly confused and disillusioned by the war themselves, rootless as he realizes that war is not at all what he thought, seeing the tragedy around him and desiring instead a life with Nurse Barkley. But even in that, neither can escape the realities of life and death.
Although the manner with which Hemingway writes may be off putting to some, his story is still engaging. He draws a picture, and although it is not filled in with vibrant colors and numerous details, it is still a picture. Through the pages spills his own disillusionment and confusion after the war. I give A Farewell to Arms three stars.