FORGOTTEN GEM: Ernest Hemingway “A Moveable Feast”

I usually open my ‘Forgotten Gems’ with why I have chosen to write my review on this book but in the case of this Hemingway I can’t. I was sent it by the publishers, but do not get too alarmed. That is not why I rate it so highly. I can’t lie though, I was very excited when I received it because I have never read a Hemingway but he has always been on the “I will one day read” list.

“The first to be published after Hemingway’s death.”

In this book Hemingway documents, in a fictionalised manner, his experiences when living in Paris during the early 1920s, ending with the dissolution of his first marriage. In a series of anecdotes he describes his relationships with such notable figures as Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and others. He also explores the atmosphere and the different attitudes and desires during that period. Interspersed within these ideas are recollections of surviving as a poor young writer with a wife, and then the addition of his first son. Drinking is also a primary feature of most of the conversations.

This book was the first to be published after Hemingway’s death. It was edited by his fourth, and last wife Mary Hemingway and released in 1964. It was very successful and very well received which begs the question why re-edit it? Most of the answer to this question is explained within Sean Hemingway’s introduction. Mary Hemingway was biased in her editing of the manuscript that is so complementary and apologetic to her husbands’ first wife but it was approved by his estate. Whether this bias was good or bad is hard to say. “A Moveable Feast”, although based on reality is undoubtedly a work of fiction. One cannot deny the grandson the right to rework his grandfather’s novel with his original writings in front of him.

The foreword, written by his sole surviving son, Patrick Hemingway, explains in brief why this particular edition has been restored, and the introduction, written by his grandson, Sean Hemingway, expands on the various edits and changes that have taken place in this edition. The foreword, for the very short little introduction that it is, is worth reading but do not read the introduction if you have not read the previous edit of the book! It is just confusing. It implies that one has read the previous edit and therefore in details describes the edits that Sean Hemingway has chosen from the manuscripts that Ernest Hemingway left behind when he died. After reading the book I went back and read the introduction and found it much more interesting than on the first read through.

A lot of Hemingway’s novel is focused on the mistakes and folly’s that humans make, particularly in those chapters that take place on his various winter skiing trips with his wife. He is also rather harsh yet apologetic in his analysis of the individual people that shaped his life through those years in Paris. Most interestingly is how he skims over his relationship with his first wife, Hadley. Every word written about her is positive and with every action that occurs between them he depicts himself in the wrong.

“Focused on the mistakes and folly’s that humans make.”

When I started reading I wasn’t really sure. I am not generally a fan of biographies. What saves Hemingway’s book is his ability as an author and his manipulation of the truth. His language is fluid, engaging, and understated. It is in fact beautiful. He takes you back to 1920s Paris without wasting words on painting the initial picture. This does make the first couple of chapters quite jarring as there is no context to place them within but once the reader is attuned to having a location and time established within the overall broad spectrum of the novel then it becomes addictive.

How forgotten is this book and indeed is Hemingway? Most people know who Ernest Hemingway is but on asking around most could not name a published work. It appears that out of literary circles he is famous by name but not by work. This is an entirely different way to be forgotten, especially as his ending was so tragic and his work is so beautiful. It does not deserve to be forgotten in a time when the ability to create an addictive story is taking precedent over any ability to write. This particular book, as a restored edition, puts Hemingway back on the shelf, and hopefully, off the classics section for a couple of weeks.

Words: Rachel Jacobs

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