The Sun Also Rises is narrated by Jake Barnes, an expatriate writer living in Paris in the 1920’s who seemingly just hangs out a lot with his group of artsy friends that includes Robert Cohn, (an ex-boxer, wanna-be writer, and somewhat of a stiff, compared to the others), Bill Gorton (a successful writer from the states), Mike Campbell (“a bankrupt“), and the infamous Lady Brett Ashley (super slut). They drink. And drink. And drink some more before planning a fishing trip to Spain followed by the fiesta and bull-fights in Pamplona.
The relationships within the group are complicated, but basically, Jake, Robert, and Mike are all in love with Brett. Lady Ashley bucks societal norms by wearing her hair extremely short, sporting skin-tight sweaters to show off her curves, and sleeping with anyone and everyone she pleases; while the men sit back and wish it was themselves that she was with. Jake is her best friend and has been in love with her for years. Robert only recently met her but instantly fell in love (while just as quickly forgetting all about his relationship with the gold-digging Frances back home). Brett is in the process of getting a divorce so that she can marry Mike Campbell. I won’t give away any more of the plot (since I want you all to read this book!), but some excitement involving a sexy young matador goes down in Spain and further complicates the already strained ties within the group.
I don’t like Lady Ashley. I find her selfish and hypocritical. She is supposed to be an independent woman, yet she seemingly can’t stand to be without a man. She uses everyone, especially poor Jake. They had a relationship at some point (the time frame, in relation to the war, is not clear), which she ended due to the fact that he suffered an injury to his man parts during the war. Jake manages to live his own life, but he is always tied to Brett and drops whatever he is doing to come bail her out of whatever crisis she has gotten herself into.
I like Jake. He is different from the others because he is the only real person, everyone else is fake and unreliable. The hotel owner in Spain recognizes Jake as “aficionado” and chooses not to acknowledge his sorry friends. There is also a scene where a waiter tries to stress to Jake the absurdity of the bull fights, stating that a man will take “a cornada right through the back. For fun- you understand” (which I believe to be symbolic of the way Jake is treated).
This book is often described as the quintessential novel of “The Lost Generation” and there is more to it than just the twisted (non) love story. Aside from the scenic descriptions of the Spanish country, Hemingway’s obvious love of nature, and the delightful slang which I find utterly charming; there is insight into the attitude of a generation going through a time that is arguably similar to today. If you read this book in high school and found it boring, I would highly recommend giving it another chance because you will likely view it in a different light with a little experience under your belt. I love Hemingway. I love the realness of his stories. The characters are sometimes hard to like and there’s rarely a happy ending for anyone, but he makes you think and leaves you pondering and philosophizing about life. What more could a girl ask for?