‘A Farewell to Arms’

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Author: Ernest Hemingway
Publisher: Arrow Books
Published: 1929 (this edition 2004)
ISBN: 9780099910107

Firstly, apologies for the photo attached to this post- I’m feeling festive! Now that’s cleared up, on with the actual writing things. Today’s review is of A Farewell to Arms the first novel by Ernest Hemingway I’ve ever read!). The book tells the story of a young American man who volunteers in the Italian army and the nurse he falls in love with. It’s beautifully written, yet also bleak and blunt in its description of the war’s devastating affect on one young man’s life.

As much as I enjoyed A Farewell to Arms, I do have a few criticisms to make. My main criticism would be that the novel takes quite a while to build-up to the main sequence of events, and thus it takes a while for readers to warm to its all-American protagonist Frederic Henry. I’d imagine Hemingway intended the character to be like a younger version of himself, which is interesting when one considers the author served in the Italian army himself. I liked the men Henry served alongside too, as they really did remind me of the Italians I met whilst visiting Italy this summer. Even when the novel describes the more harrowing aspects of life on the frontline the interactions between such characters provide us with some light relief. Aside from the slow start, my only other issue with the novel was Henry’s love interest Catherine. I simply felt she was a little bland, and a slightly stereotypical wartime love interest for a soldier. She had her witty moments as the novel progressed, but even then I found her a little bland for a key character. That being said, A Farewell to Arms proved to be one of the few love stories I’ve ever really been able to become lost in.

This is a book it’s easy to become lost in and will evoke memories of Italy for those who’ve visited. Even as a country blighted by war it’s an idealistic setting for a novel. The description of life on and near the frontline, where the situation is depicted as being somewhat tentative, perfectly conveys how the soldiers must have felt during the months spent waiting to fight. However, this sombre tone never manages to quash the wit of the narrative, something which is also true when tragedy prepares to strike at the end of the novel. The story is beautifully narrated in a surprising simplistic manner- this is a brutal story of an ill-fated wartime romance that never pretends to be anything it isn’t. The horrendous things witnessed by soldiers in the midst of the heavy fighting are described bluntly and truly convey how the soldiers who died fighting for the country must have suffered, yet the description is so stunning that the book is always an easy read.

Despite being a war novel, A Farewell to Arms often seems more like a love story than a description of conflicts. Whilst making notes on this book, I even used the word ‘cute’ to describe the relationship between Henry and Catherine (although I did note shortly afterwards that this probably made Hemingway turn in his grave)! Even cold-hearted readers like myself will find themselves willing things to work out for Henry. I genuinely liked the character and, although I don’t want to ruin the twist in the tale, will say that I understood everything he does during the novel. Speaking of twists, one in the final paragraph broke my heart as Hemingway deceives readers into thinking all will be well shortly before dropping a heart wrenching bomb on them. I can’t remover the last time I was so upset by a book- in modern terms I had ‘the feels’ over that tragic final paragraph. A Farewell to Arms has left me somewhat traumatised, yet I’m sure it won’t be the last of Hemingway’s work I read and I can confirm it deserves its reputation as a modern classic.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5 (4.5/5)

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