Tag Archives: Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway at War

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Hemingway at War –
Ernest Hemingway’s Adventures as a World War II Correspondent
By Terry Mort
Pegasus Books/W.W. Norton 

Money can be easy to come by, especially and obviously when it’s inherited; integrity is not.

This is a terrific book.

Apart from being very readable and very honest – not to mention flawlessly written – its fifteen chapters take the reader on a perilous journey through wartime Europe, as brought to bear by that equally perilous and utmost of seemingly blokey characters, Ernest Hemingway. Yet even if you’re not into Hemingway, which admittedly I am, it’s the sort of book that’ll have you turning the pages with all the great haste regularity of a curious gazelle.

There again, we are talking about Ernest Hemingway; who not only led one of the most interesting and colourful lives this side of Oliver Reed and Keith Moon, but is perhaps someone, many would consider as among the first rock’n’roll writers of his generation. He was after all, married four times, was something of a rebel rouser (to put it mildly) and enjoyed a pint. All of which is painfully, yet marvellously captured throughout Hemingway at War – Ernest Hemingway’s Adventures as a World War II Correspondent.

Indeed, so far as Hemingway’s spell as a most reticent reporter during the Second World War is concerned, Terry Mort (whose previous books include The Hemingway Patrols, The Wrath of Cochise and The Monet Murders) has herein left no stone unturned.

The author has unearthed his subject with as much truth, daring and research as is surely possible.

For instance, as the outset of chapter two, Mort touches on Men at War – which Hemingway spent much of 1942 editing and to which he also contributed three selections from his own novels – which, in and of itself, could well trigger an abundance of debate among Hemingway aficionados: ””This book will not tell you how to die.” That is Hemingway being Hemingway, but not the best of him […]. And in what surely is an unintentional visitation of irony, he writes that Mussolini’s bluster and military posing were designed to cover up the fact that he had been fearful, even terrified, during World War I. Surely Hemingway would be enraged to know today that that is almost exactly the criticism that was, and is, levelled at him, in some quarters. Worse, that same criticism is also used to question his sexual identity – does a hairy chest conceal some different needs! He would not have liked that, either. And in fairness, that sort of analysis – the defence mechanism argument – is facile and in some cases has a whiff of agenda-driven criticism. But if you, meaning Hemingway, are going to use it, you cannot be surprised when others do it to you.”

Suffice to say, the above is loaded with what many could well assume to be high-octane ambiguity; especially from the stand-point of ”Mussolini’s bluster” and Hemingway’s chest quite possibly concealing ”some different needs.”

It’s all relative conjecture of course; although in historically literal terms, there is needless to say, no smoke without fire. Or in this particular instance, no cover up without the most boisterous need to both subvert and divert.

Assorted light is further shed on such thinking in chapter eleven, by which time, Hemingway, who was involved in the Liberation of Paris, was staying at the Ritz Hotel. Mort writes of Hemingway having initiated a reunion with his old friend and occasional benefactor, Sylvia Beach. Quoting from her memoir: ””There was still a lot of shooting going on, and we were getting tired of it, when one day a string of jeeps came up the street and stopped in front of my house […]. I flew downstairs; we met with a crash; he picked me up and swung me around and kissed me while the people in the street cheered.

We went up to Adrienne’s apartment and sat down. He was in battle dress, grimy and bloody. A machine gun clanked on the floor. He asked Adrienne for a piece of soap, and she gave him her last cake […].”

The author then goes on to (perhaps clarify?) by writing: ”Beach’s account of the meeting suggests strongly that it took place as Hemingway was entering the city. His ”bloody” and ”grimy” appearance does not suggest the appearance of a man who had just spent the night at the Ritz. And you would think he would not need a bar of soap – surely the could Ritz provide that. (Although there were shortages of everything after four years of occupation and rationing).”

The mere fact that Terry Mort writes of such open ended conundrum, is just one aspect of what accounts for Hemingway at War being such a valuable and weighty, if not quasi-inflammatory read.

Naturally, not all of the 263 pages (excluding Introduction, Endnotes, Bibliography and Index) lean toward such supposition, as the following direct Hemingway quotation from a 1958 edition of the Paris Review – one among many – surely substantiates: ”All you can be sure about in a political-minded writer is that if his work should last, you will have to skip the politics when you read it.”

It’s not often a book will have one reading on the edge of one’s seat – but hey, this Hemingway. Replete with bluster and braggadocio.

David Marx

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Experimental Fiction

Experimental Fiction

Experimental Fiction –
An Introduction for Readers and Writers
By Julie Armstrong
Bloomsbury – £17.99

If you don’t feel compelled to write reams of stuff by the end of reading and (hopefully) fully digesting this sheer ambidextrous explanation of what great literature has to offer, then writing’s probably not for you in you anyway. For such is the altogether, colourful gambit of Experimental Fiction – An Introduction for Readers and Writers, that upon reaching its more than measured conclusion, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a vast number of inspired ants in pants make a cathartic calamity of themselves.

Reason being, Julie Armstrong’s concise, chronological investigation bequeaths the reader with over a thousand ways in which to approach writing. Or not approach writing – as is more often than not the case.

From ‘Form and Fiction’ to ‘Gender Crisis,’ ‘Spirituality and the Beats’ to ‘Sexuality, Drug Culture and Fiction;’ from ‘Identity in Flux’ to ‘Giving Voice to Other,’ ‘Changing Perception of Reality’ to ‘Electronic/Hyper/Interactive Fiction,’ the authoress traverses an exceedingly wide terrain of literal potentiality.

And with having done so within the parameters of a mere 196 pages, it’s no surprise she cuts to the chase in next to no time.

Already in Section One, (‘When Was/What Was Modernity(ism)?’), Armstrong immediately discusses the profound impact that modernism has had upon fiction: ”Fiction became self-reflexive, that is, the work was not a representation of reality a realist art was, but a representation of the processes of representation; a work that explored its own structure. So the way the story was told became as important as the story itself. For example, in Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway treats narrative and dialogue as self-conscious exercises by which the author himself recognizes to be exercises […]. And so, new forms and writing techniques came into being […], symbols, motifs, fragmentation dislocation, juxtaposition, collage, ambiguity, montage, stream of consciousness and multiple narratives, as the focus came to be on a character’s conscious and subconscious mind, as opposed to character development and plot.”

Needless to say, the further one delves into the book (which, given the subject mater, can on occasion, border on the scientific if not the seemingly dense), the more on stumbles upon the many varied offshoots of totally different writing styles.

One such instance is that of identity, where, at the outset of ‘Identity in Flux,’ Armstrong reminds us of the long lasting trajectory of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex: ”Even as far back as 1949 […] gender, as distinct from biological sex, is a construct, something made by society, that is, one is not born a woman. If gender, then, is a construct and can be changed, manipulated and even performed, it can be viewed as a facet of a multiple, contradictory, fluid identity, one, that is, in flux.” While a little further into Experimental Fiction, Armstrong tackles the continuing influence of scientific theory upon literature; and she does so by way of addressing Jeanette Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry: ”Winterson is making the claim that time and space can only be represented through language and since language is arbitrary to the extent that different languages have conflicting systems of representation, how can we ever begin to suggest that words have any direct link to the concept which they are trying to evoke?”

In and of themselves, there’s much to ponder within the above quotes; just as there indeed is throughout much of this contemplative, and very worthwhile book. The mere fact that so many writers are touched upon and discussed (James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Franz Kafka, Marcel Proust, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Gibson Italo Calvino to name but a few), exemplifies as much.

An inspired way to start the year, especially so far as both the understanding and the fulfilment of challenging writing is concerned.

David Marx

Barcelona – Stories Behind The City

From Barcelona 300[2]

Barcelona – Stories Behind The City
By Jeremy Holland
Summertime Publishing – £9.99

The author of Barcelona – Stories Behind The City, Jeremy Holland, was born in Los Angeles, which isn’t in the least surprising, as the writing herein is more Americana than a cryptic combination of such bands as Los Lobos and Bon Jovi. Now some might consider this a good thing, while others not so good. Personally, it’s American spelling that irks me beyond negotiation. It always seems wrong somehow. While certain terminology such as the horrendously over-used and horribly misused word, ‘awesome,’ makes my skin crawl to the point of literally want to vomit…

The only reason I mention the above within the context of this book review, is that one doesn’t normally equate a menagerie of Americanisms within the parameters of Barcelona literature. And while this may come across as pedantically besides the point, it does nevertheless influence (much of) the reading. Once this is fully realised/overcome/dealt with, certain segments of Barcelona – Stories Behind The City makes for entertaining reading.

To be sure, there’s a fistful of thought provoking one-liners scattered throughout the book that are particularly pleasing, of which the following three are more than deft examples: ”All of these guys have the gift of the gab and zero conscience” (‘CSI Barcelona’); ”Locals sit on shaded benches in the square across the street, legs crossed, reading newspapers, as a flock of escaped parakeets chirp in a powder blue sky” (‘The Sound of Barcelona’); ”Alex had been raised in a family of mathematicians, happiness and sadness weren’t quanifiable, so they didn’t exist. Same went for God or any other super natural being” (‘Barcelona Gothic’).

While my favourite short story ‘Monica & Juan’ – a depiction of family life, on the edge, on the nickel (now there’s an Americanism not oft used) in economically drained Spain – it’s ‘Running the Gauntlet’ that might in and of itself, reside as this book’s most powerful: ”As they crossed the slippery pavement of Las Ramblas, prostitutes manifested out of nothingness. They whistled. ”Hey, Papi,” they shouted. ”I suck dick.” Their toned muscles and prison hardened expressions in the glare of ornate street lamps, provoked more dread and loathing in the testicles than sexual desire.”

As stated on the back cover: ”Dubbed, ‘The Great Enchantress,’ by art critic Robert Hughes, Barcelona was seducing visitors long before the city’s rise to a tourist hotspot following the Olympic Games in 1992. Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell all once called the Catalan capital ”home,” while countless others have been charmed by the city’s character and splendour.

While Jeremy Holland’s literary offering may not (obviously) stand alongside that of Hemingway and Orwell’s, it’s still a worthy contribution to that of Barcelona’s ever growing magic and mystique.

David Marx

Fates Worse Than Death

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Fates Worse Than Death
By Kurt Vonnegut
Vinage – £8.99

Fates Worse Than Death is a collection of essays, speeches and other previously unpublished works by one of America’s finest and most inventive of writers, Kurt Vonnegut. Otherwise known as An Autobiographical Collage of the 1980s, this book is essentially grounded in the fact that it has no overall structure – a facet which some may find a little bizarre. Although readers already conditioned and used to the writer’s work, will undoubtadly have already embraced it long ago, along with much of the rest of his catalogue.

That the book is made up of reproduced public speeches, throws yet another slant on how it ought to be both perceived and approached. Prime reason being, many found Vonnegut’s public speaking to be a lot more entertaining overall, than his writing; but of course, this is down to subjective opinion – as are the following (illuminating) extracts taken from various chapters throughout the book:

””James Jones, author of From Here to Eternity, and a rifleman in peacetime and then in war, told me that he could not consider Hemingway a fellow soldier, since he had never submitted to training and discipline. In the Spanish Civil War and then in World War II, Hemingway took no orders and gave no orders. He came and went wherever and whenever he pleased. He actually hunted German submarines for a while in the Caribbean – in his own boat and of his own accord” (chapter five).

”The firebombing of Dresden was an emotional event without a trace of military importance. The Germans purposely kept the city free of major war industries and arsenals and troop concentrations so that it might be a safe haven for the wounded and refugees. There was no air-raid shelters to speak of and few anti-aircraft guns. It was a famous world art treasure, like Paris or Vienna or Prague, and about as sinister as a wedding cake. I will say again what I have often said in print and in speeches, that not one Allied soldier was able to advance as much as an inch because of the firebombing of Dresden. Not one prisoner of the Nazis got out of prison a micro-second earlier. Only one person on earth clearly benefited, and I am that person. I got about five dollars for each corpse, counting my fee tonight” (chapter ten).

”Manhattan is a geological phenomenon. An enormous fraction of the planet’s wealth was concentrated on a little island of solid granite. This caused crystals to sprout in such profusion that the island when viewed from the air now resembles a quartz porcupine” (chapter thirteen).

As it states on the back back cover, Fates Worse Than Death is ”a collage of his own life story, snipped up and struck down alongside his views on everything from suicidal depression to the future of the planet and Andrew Lloyd Webber.”

A literary see-saw betwixt being razor-sharp the one minute and darker than dark the next – this book goes some way in clarfying that not only did Vonnegut have a terrific mind, but that he confronted (predominantly Western) complacency head-on.

This alone makes the book, along with most of his writings, more commendable and certainly more readable than most.

David Marx