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.
Set 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.