"A Moveable Feast"

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

In his prologue, Hemingway says readers are welcome to read this book as fiction if they prefer and it does feel more like fiction than autobiography. Not that I think the story is made up, but it's written with a detachment and an admirable lack of self-promotion I haven't found very often in autobiographies.

Though I learned more about Ernest Hemingway from this book than I knew before, I don't feel I know him any better. He does talk about himself, what he did, where he went, how he spent his time, but there is nothing of his passions, fears, dreams, joys. The book's voice seems monotone, as though he experienced everything on one level with no ups and downs. It left me with more questions than answers about who he was as a person.

A Moveable Feast is an account of Hemingway's life in Paris from 1921 to 1926. It includes stories of his friendships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and other writers and artists of the day. For most of the years covered he was a poor struggling writer with a young wife who loved him and whom he loved. He was happy to be in Paris, happy to be married, happy to be writing; it was a satisfying time for him even without much money. There is a sort of sadness though that runs through the book; it seems to belong to his friends rather than to him. There's a vague pointlessness to parts of their lives, a drudgery. He doesn't express this outrightly, but in his manner of speaking about them, you feel it. His feelings toward Paris he is very clear about. He speaks of it as the best possible place for a writer to be writing. A quote from a letter written in 1950 to a friend says “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for it is a moveable feast.”

The real joy in this book is the writing itself. The clarity (which reminds me a little of C.S.Lewis), the effortless simplicity, the sheer brilliance of it! On every page there was something that I would stop and reread simply for the pleasure in Hemingway's arrangement of the words. It also helped that it's set in Paris; I am a pushover for all things French. I'd read even a mediocre book if it was set in France. It is my good fortune that this one has both the perfect setting and wonderful writing. 

Here are a few of my favorite passages:

  • “...I knew too that I must write a novel. I would put it off though until I could not help doing it.”
  • “...everything good and bad left an emptiness when it stopped.”
  • “ When spring came, even false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest. The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself."
My copy of "A Moveable Feast" is old and yellowed and chunks of pages are falling out but I’ll stick it back together and read it again because I love the musty, authentic smell of it. A new clean copy wouldn't create the same atmosphere for reading and I will read it many times because Hemingway's prose is so good  it's almost poetry. Add to the wonderful writing this ingenious opening line “Then there was the bad weather” and how could you not fall in love with it?


Mel u said...

Great review-I want to read this book in part to see what he says about Ford Madox Ford

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