He’ll always be a master
Ernest Hemingway is one of the first great writers we read as adolescents. By the time I was 19, I had – like many of my friends – exhausted his entire oeuvre. And, influenced as much by the times in which he became deeply unfashionable as the fact that there was so much else to read and discover as the fact that generations of imitators (all in search of that “one true sentence”) seemed to have diluted his searing authenticity in my perception, I never returned to Hemingway for 21 years.
Then, this podcast (Julian Barnes reading his favourite story for the Guardian website) led me back to Hemingway. It was invigorating. It was thrilling.
From my shelves, I searched out his memoir, A Moveable Feast. Published posthumously, it is easily the best thing he wrote between winning the Nobel Prize in 1954 and killing himself in 1961 (yes, The Old Man and the Sea, included). A Moveable Feast describes – in prose of crystalline purity –Hemingway’s years in Paris in the early 1920s, the years in which he was probably writing at his peak, and trying to make his name as a writer. The stellar cast of characters – all in Paris at the time – include F Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein. And it is, towards the end of his life and long writing career, as clear an exegesis of what Hemingway thought about writing as one could hope to get.
I then went on to the stories. On a break in England earlier this year, I reread Men Without Women, and marvelled at what I had forgotten about the collection. Back in Bombay, I bought what is considered the definitive proof of Hemingway’s genius. The First Forty Nine Stories, which contains the collections The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Winner Take Nothing and Men Without Women, and several other stories, stand, without doubt, more than any of his novels, to be testament of why he was one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.
No praise is high enough for it. There is simply too much to learn from it, too much to savour, too much to be awed by. Here is where you can buy it.
Do that, read it, and let me know.