Thursday, October 6, 2011

No war novel is an island.

Current book: For Whom the Bell Tolls
Pages read: 312 - 497 (end)

I read a lot, as you can see. That's because I read very, very fast. Because when nothing happens at all, it's easy to keep up with the plot points. (And I'm sick to death of this book.)

A bunch of fascist soldiers attack one of the other nearby guerrilla groups, and Augustin and Robert just have to stand by and listen, because to help would mean they wouldn't be able to complete their mission. However, this means that the enemy is more than prepared for the attack that Robert's group is supposed to be supporting with the demolition of the bridge. Robert, therefore, sends a message to the general in charge of the operation to say that it should be called off. That message makes it through, but not until moments before the attack, by which time it's already too late. (Oh, the futility of war! Alas! Alack!)

Meanwhile, Pablo betrays our friendly guerrillas by making off in the middle of the night with half the explosives and all the detonators. But it's ok, because he comes back in the morning, all contrite, with grenades, having changed his mind. So, they go out on their big operation, successfully blow up the bridge, and return. Half of them get killed, but there you go. They're attempting to make their escape, with Pablo's help, when Robert gets thrown off his horse and breaks his leg. It's a bad enough injury that there's no way he can make it out, so they leave him, with Maria weeping and protesting. He marshals his strength enough to stay alive and kill the next fascist that comes along, and, on the last page, we see him lying in wait for that solider, ready to kill him with his last dying breath.

So, my mother summed it up pretty well in yesterday's comment, "The bell is tolling for all of these characters every time they witness or participate in an act that diminishes mankind." War is terrible and futile and pointless, and half the time it's all a mistake. The young and brave waste their lives by throwing them at foolish goals determined by the old and cowardly, and no one cares. Love is extinguished by the brutality of violence, and for no good reason. Robert is completely dehumanized because of the fact that, even in the moment of his own death, he plans to kill someone else. Hooray.

I maintain that once you've read one book about war, you've read them all. This was too long and I didn't care for the style in the least. Does that make it not a good war novel? No, not really, but I'm also not sure it's a seminal work. If I hadn't already read books about war, I might feel differently, but I have, so I don't. I think the first novel I read of this nature, though, was All Quiet on the Western Front, and I didn't like that either.

It's not worthy of the list largely because it's an unnecessarily long slog and not particularly original. The Old Man and the Sea is better Hemingway. Also shorter.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I'll show you profanity.

Current book: For Whom the Bell Tolls
Pages read: 99 - 311

I read yesterday, despite appearances, and just completely forgot to post. It's not like I didn't have time, either. I just didn't even think about it. At all. Because that is how boring this novel is. It's actually better that I didn't post yesterday anyway, because nothing happened. No, really.

Robert Jordan and Maria have sex. Everyone argues. We find out that Pilar watched Pablo organize and oversee the killing of fascists in his hometown after it was taken over by rebels at the beginning of the conflict. (That was 100 pages, right there. Seriously.) The guerrillas (Man, that is a hard word to spell. I'm a good speller, but guerrilla gets me every time. It's the double r that I can't seem to remember.) pick up camp in order to move closer to the site of the bridge that needs to be blown up. Robert and Maria have sex again. Pilar is jealous of both of them and is apparently bisexual. (I'm not interpreting; it's really in there.) Pablo threatens Robert's command, but it comes to nothing when some enemy cavalry rides through and everyone switches into combat mode. Now, Robert and a fellow guerrilla named Augustin are keeping watch over the area. Also, it snows quite a bit.

There's a lot of wistfulness about Robert and Maria's relationship (which actually seems to be pretty genuine) and how they're having the rare experience of real love, but it has to be curtailed by the necessities of warfare. There's a lot of bemoaning of killing people, as well, especially when it's brutal and vengeful, as it was with Pablo and the fascists. (They were beaten to death with flails. Lovely.) I don't understand how so little can have happened, but there you are. Robert has these long internal monologues about his life, too, and we find out that he joined the fight with the Russians as kind of a pseudo-Communist, and that he used to be a professor of Spanish in Montana. It's the same stuff Hemingway always does, which is stark prose and unrealistically straightforward, repetitive dialogue interspersed with angst-filled musings about the past.

Also, for some reason Hemingway felt the need not to actually write any profanity in this book, but since it's a feature of many of the guerrillas' dialogue, he put it in as the actual words "unprintable," or "obscenity," or "I obscenity in the milk of your..." It's just obnoxious, frankly. If you want to swear, swear; if you don't, don't. But don't pretty it up for the censors. Where's the integrity? I don't find it endearing or indicative of the characters' speech patterns. I find it cheap as hell. Also, it's often confusing and jars you out of the narrative because it makes you stop and mentally translate back into normal swearing. Anyway, aside from the annoyance factor, it's idiocy to stop short of writing profanity, but to graphically describe people being beaten to death by flails. I'm not going to be more shocked by the word "fuck" than I am by torture and war crimes. Christ.

Monday, October 3, 2011

On little cat feet

Current book: For Whom the Bell Tolls
Pages read: 10 - 98

So, I finally got the book - the library was totally holding out on me, and clearly had another copy. I went to get some other books on Saturday and just strolled by the shelf to check, and there it was, quietly Hemingwaying with the other Hemingways. Come on, library. You're supposed to want people to read books.

Our hero's name is Robert Jordan, which is amusing if you're familiar with modern fantasy novels (and one wonders if Robert Jordan chose his nom de plume because of this novel), and he seems to be American, although it's not entirely clear. Anyway, he's a demolitionist working for the allied forces waging guerrilla warfare in Spain during World War II. So far, he's arrived at the rebel camp and met some people, amongst them Pablo, the de facto commander, who's a drunk and seems to be close to turning traitor; Anselmo, an older, wise man who's fought before; and Maria, a girl rescued from prison. Pablo seems like he's eventually going to be a problem, but hasn't done anything yet. Pilar, Pablo's wife, is really in charge of the guerrilla camp, and is keeping everything in order and Pablo in check. Honestly, they just seem to hang out, eat, and drink wine. Robert cases the strategic bridge that he's been sent to this particular area to blow up and decides it will be quite easy to set and detonate the explosives. (We're also informed through flashbacks that he has to wait for an army-initiated attack to start before he actually destroys it.) In addition, he finds himself very attracted to Maria, and they eventually sleep together. She's the initiator of the tryst, which is good, since it seems like she was raped in prison, and we'd hate for Robert to take advantage of her.

It's pretty much really boring. I wish I could say that it was somehow changing my mind about Hemingway, but it's definitely not so far. His dialogue is bizarre and stilted, too, which the appreciators of his style will, I'm sure, put down to the fact that it's spare and unique, but makes it sound sort of like everyone's a robot. Also, watching guerrillas bicker in a cave is not my idea of a good time. I'm sure there's an important lesson about the monotony of war and the futility of plans in a time of conflict, but I am not looking forward to spending the next 600 pages learning it.

How come there are never any six-toed cats in Hemingway's books? You'd think they might have sneaked in. I assume they're good at sneaking. What with the six toes.


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