A Generation Lost but Well Fed in Paris
A Review, by Alex Walker
Part 1: Movable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway
A Movable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway, is one of the iconic writer’s most enduring and important works. Published after Hemingway’s suicide, the memoir offers a fascinating peek into the demons that haunted America’s eminent author throughout his life. A portrait of the artist emerges that is much different from the myth that ‘Papa’ Hemingway tried to create.
Equal parts charming and off-putting the book struggles with the same duality that Hemingway had in abundance. Feast draws you in with its stark and achingly beautiful recollections of Parisian life in the 20s, which wasn’t always as picturesque as we would like to believe.
The scrumptious parts of this Feast are filled with creativity and zest for life, even in its rawness, for which Hemingway was famous. He writes with yearning nostalgia of a time when life, art, and love were all new. A time when his exceptional talent was emerging, and the literary world was yet to be conquered with everything he would be as a writer and stylist. Lines like, “It was a sad, evilly run cafe where the drunkards of the quarter crowded together and I kept away from it because of the smell of the dirty bodies and the sour smell of drunkenness,” evokes a city that is arresting in its grittiness and a far cry from the glitter that we usually associate with Paris. “All the sadness of the city, came suddenly with the first cold rains of winter,” brings to mind the melancholy pining for spring that anyone who has walked along a bleak street in fall has known.
He writes of his first wife, Hadley Richardson, with unexpected genuine affection. “She was smiling, the sun on her lovely face tanned by the snow and sun,” is a lovely example of gentleness and warmth not usually encountered in Hemingway’s writing. And finally, in Feast’s last tasty course, he writes with authority and insight about the art and “work” of writing. When talking about writing, his true love, he is a trustworthy narrator and has some worthwhile instructions for those hoping to emulate him. I wish he had stopped here- the work and the writer would’ve been richer and more deserving for it.
The next part of the book, referred to as “irreverent portraits of other luminaries” on the back cover, is the one I found utterly unpalatable. Here, Hemingway writes with brute savagery about other writers, especially those of his acquaintance, and most especially those that considered themselves his friends. In Hemingway’s mind no other writer is ever worthy of the title except himself; and these recollections are no more than the cruel and petty caricatures of the most evil-minded and petulant child. No one comes off well, most notably himself their author. Hemingway on these pages is a snide bully, peddling in the most prurient gossip. Reading them, I was left with a very unpleasant taste, one that almost ruined an otherwise satisfying meal. For my money if you read Feast skip the “luminaries” bit; there is nothing new or good here and you’ll need a stiff drink to wash the taste out of your mouth.
…Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Series
A Paris Wife, By Paula McLain, a historical novel that deals with the same time period, from the point of view of Hemingway’s first wife.