This year I have been taking part in a Classics Challenge hosted by Katherine of November’s Autumn. Every month Katherine posts a prompt to help us discuss the classic novel we are currently reading. The prompt for October is:
Jot down some notes about the chapter you’ve just read or one that struck you the most. It can be as simple as a few words you learned, some quotes, a summary, or your thoughts and impressions.
The classic I’m reading at the moment is A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, the story of an American ambulance driver on the Italian front during World War I. This is the first Hemingway book I’ve read and I wasn’t sure what to expect, as he seems to be one of those authors people either love or hate. I’m only seven (very short) chapters into the book so it’s really too early to tell, but so far I’m finding it a lot more readable than I had thought it would be.
Chapter 1, which is the chapter I’ve chosen to focus on for the purposes of this post, is less than two pages long yet it has a lot of significance as it sets the scene and the tone of the novel. We learn almost nothing about our narrator in these two pages, not even his name, and although it’s obvious that he is involved with the army in some way, he seems very detached from what is going on around him.
“Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.”
I’ve included the quote above because I think it’s a good example of Hemingway’s writing style. He uses simple, direct language and seems to like stringing together very long sentences using the word ‘and’! He also manages to paint vivid pictures of his settings while avoiding flowery descriptions. I’m not sure yet whether I like his writing or not, but I’ll see how I feel after reading a whole book written in this style.
Chapter 1 ends with the following two sentences:
“At the start of the winter came the permanent rain and with the rain came the cholera. But it was checked and in the end only seven thousand died of it in the army.”