The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway

Reviewing this and the previous post’s book Chess, has been an interesting exercise, both books have featured forced solitude in isolation and all of the psychological consequences that come with that.  As a reader in the individual pursuit of a good story, the effects of such books can only be compelling, as life can be examined from a different and altogether more challenging perspective.

Fogey and WatterSet in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Havana, Hemingway’s magnificent fable is the story of an old man, a young boy and a giant fish. It was The Old Man and the Sea that won for Hemingway the Nobel Prize for Literature. Here, in a perfectly crafted story, is a unique and timeless vision of the beauty and grief of man’s challenge to the elements in which he lives. Not a single word is superfluous in this widely admired masterpiece, which once and for all established his place as one of the giants of modern literature.

Hemingway has always been a hit and miss for me author for me but this was the book that encouraged me to pick up more of his works and appreciate them more than previous encounters.  I loved this story the first time around so having time to reread it and reflect on it, is one of life’s simple but rewarding pleasures.  Rereading is not something that I tend not to do very often.

At ninety-nine pages the book does that wonderful thing of placing the reader squarely in a remote and lonely setting, one that I suspect most readers will already be in, ignoring the world at large to read, a sort of Inception style reading process, so to speak.  Once there the book takes hold of the senses and gives the peruser a satisfying ordeal to remember.

As you would expect with a Hemingway book, his prose is precise and economical, being short on the conversation which have always failed to entice me in H’s other books, A Fare to Arms being a prime candidate.  The beauty of what is written here is that it is a simple tale, one told time and again throughout myth and history, it’s the never-ending human struggle against nature, what we wish to accomplish, usually complimented with a generous streak of stubbornness.

There is something about the sheer will and endurance of the titular old man that makes the book such a pleasing experience.  The traditional and uncomplicated quest/trial allows for a purer form of story telling that lends itself to the right amount of sentimentality and realism without becoming overly unbalanced in favour of either, It’s a true odyssey in novella form.

I did feel that I got the same amount of emotion and empathy out of the narrative, that is usually reserved for full length novels, It was devoured in one sitting on each of the two occasions I read this.  This is a story of the mind as much as the physical aspects and for anybody who is a fan of aquatic trials then this is definitely your (fish in a) bag.

41 Replies to “The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway”

  1. I loved this one too – probably more than most of his other novels. His descriptions are powerful. Sometimes I felt sorry for the fish though. 🙂

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    1. It does tend to swing the sympathies both ways! I do struggle with his longer works but I am now feeling like I need to read some of his other books, perhaps I was too harsh on him, although maybe not, lol.

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      1. That’s true, I remember feeling sorry for the old man at certain times too. I feel the same way about the dialogue in some of his other novels. Maybe I liked this one more because there wasn’t as much dialogue in it. Usually, the women all sound the same.

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  2. I feel bad that this is such an important Hemingway novel and that it’s one of the few I’ve never read. I must confess that though I sometimes dislike his overly macho dialogue and narrative, I have a sneaking affection for certain very effective lines. Such as Jake’s last line in “The Sun Also Rises”: the female lead, I can’t quite remember her name, says something about how happy they might have been had tragic circumstances been different, and Jake responds, “Isn’t it pretty to think so.” That sums up the whole difference between his character and hers in one simple sentence. I think I’ll read “The Old Man and the Sea” as soon as I can find my copy, though I have to confess that “sea” books in general fail to hold me. At least, I detested “Moby Dick”; but I’m taking your word for it that this is better.

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    1. I couldn’t get on with Moby Dick either, I think it took me a month and a half to read 150 pages, it was just so slow, although I liked the writing, I want a little more oomph and when I was told that it carried on at that pace even at the climax, I gave up ,life it too short. This one is the total opposite, short and to the point. I agree with you about the overly macho prose, I found in A Farewell to Arms that the main guy was monosyllabic and the woman was so simpering that I couldn’t really get on with either, the ending was grim as well but that somehow made the whole experience better. I need to read more Hemingway to get a better overall perspective of his works.

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      1. Why not try “The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway”? I know you must’ve heard of the tale “Hills Like White Elephants,” and that’s just the start. He’s much better in short doses.

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        1. I have heard of it but no almost nothing about it, I think I will pick up the short stories at some point as you suggest. Why oh why are there so many good books to read!

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  3. I’m not a fan of this one. Much of his prose fails to excite me although I loved his account of his stay in Paris (A Moveable Feast). Always love reading your reviews though. They make me want to reconsider my opinions when I don’t feel exactly as you do.

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    1. I hear good things about A Moveable Feast which is one of the reasons I need to go back to America…as there is a copy that I can readily get my hands on and a nice garden to sit in as well. Hemingway is a strange author, I haven’t come across anybody who universally likes his works I don’t think. at least if you reread this one it won’t take long and if you still don’t like it, I won’t feel as guilty for making you question your opinion lol.

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  4. Most of Hemingway’s work is a bit too, hmmm, failing at a politically correct word, so I’ll commit to the faux pas–it’s so macho. Bulls, war, conquests–not my interests. However, this succinct fable of a man, nature, and the beautiful symbolism of faith interlaced throughout is wondrous. It’s a prelude to Life of Pi.

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    1. Of course! The life of Pi, that is a good reference to make, it does have that feel to it at times, now that was a really good book as well. It is refreshingly different to the other works of his I have read, I think that’s why I appreciate this one more, that and the subtle undertones, I’m glad this was the Hemingway I chose as my ‘final chance’ book.

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  5. I love Hemingway, my husband is his die-hard fan, he’s read almost all his books. I’ve read it about three times and I still have the same reaction; anger and sadness. Great review old friend, happy I stopped by. 🙂

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    1. I slightly edited your comment for spoilers but I am in full agreement with what you say, it was almost a predictable ending when I thought about it afterwards but it was such a good book that swept me away with its narrative. There is something to be said for rereading, which I really should do more often.

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    1. For such a simple story there is a lot of depth to it, just like the ocean. I think our literature likes are a lot alike and that always makes me smile.

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  6. I’ve never read any Hemingway. I have been swayed by others who told me about his macho style and the subject matter – hunting a fish, bull fighting, war, violence. I have conveniently ignored those who talk about his wonderful prose. I will have to give this a go one day I expect.

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    1. If you do try a book of his, this is a good one to read, it’s less macho and pits one man against nature, with a side order of thoughts about faith. It works well and is one heck of a ride.

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  7. Would you believe – I have yet to read this book? Isn’t this something most people read in school? I seriously need to get with the program here.

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    1. Over here we don’t read so much American literature, although I believe that is starting to change. If you haven’t read it by Christmas I will send you a copy and a picture of my face!

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  8. Great review. I’ve always been captivated and terrified by the sea. I suppose the same could be said for my thoughts on isolation. Naturally, I loved this book and was frightened by it.

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    1. There is something about the vastness of time and the sea, I think both are innate fears from our past, being things that are difficult to quantify.

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  9. The Old Man And The Sea was set text for Ghana years back. What I mean is that we read it in secondary school for literature in English and was an examinable book. Thanks for the great review that sent me down memory lane.

    Incidentally, it’s being used at least for the past two years again. 🙂

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    1. I’m glad to see that children get to wonderful books at school and hopefully it will encourage the new generation to read and write like yourself. I love it when a blog post does something unexpected and to allow you a trip back into the past is a happy bonus for me.

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  10. Most of Hemingway’s works can be understood as metaphors representing what it means to be a writer, as well as what it means to write. Green Hills of Africa is the most obvious of Hemingway’s when I think about his style of ‘writing about writing.’ The Old Man and the Sea is his truest work, however, because he is able to achieve the metaphor without any unnecessary words, and because each aspect of the story (old man, fish, sea, sharks, boy, etc.) does not stand alone or act as an individual symbol, but instead collectively represents the essence of life, which makes the story timeless.

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    1. I will bear that in mind for when I read it for the third time. Hemingway is an author that I still can’t decide if I truly like or not, yet I keep buying one more book to see if that helps and perhaps in that lies the answer. Maybe I should actually research the chap before I read The Sun Also Rises.

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        1. Thanks for the tip, I too sometimes like to live my life like Hemingway, poor but not too poor for alcohol and a good breakfast.

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          1. If it’s any help, something you can look for in his short stories is how he employs this theory of his:

            “It was a very simple story called “Out of Season” and I had omitted the real end of it which was that the old man hanged himself. This was omitted on my new theory that you could omit anything if you knew that you omitted and the omitted part would strengthen the story and make people feel something more than they understood.”

            In particular, The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber ends with a lot of ambiguity. Without giving the story away, Hemingway leaves the reader wondering about the intentions of the main characters, and about why the events transpire as they do. He could have told us exactly what we should interpret of the story as well as lead us through conclusions to be had, but by omitting any judgment statements the story is more powerful because it’s more reflective of tragic situations– in that, people are going to look to place fault on others, or play the events over like in a court case. However, the reality of tragedy is that it transpires not because of one specific factor, but multiple factors working together that are beyond full comprehension (I imagine his inspiration for this comes from experiencing the lunacy of how the world escalated into WWI).

            And yes, all of his stories are about hunting, fishing, alcohol, bull fighting, travel, and espionage– I feel like he’s the example for a lot of writers as to how to live your life as a writer.

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            1. Any story that finds its strength in relying on the reader to think for themselves is always a good thing, I think you have put me in a Hemingway mood now…and yet more books are added to the list…

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