Novel: For Whom The Bell Tolls

for_whom_the_bell_tolls.largeAuthor: Ernest Hemingway, 1940
Genre: War Fiction, Drama
Format: Hardcover, 480 pages

Ah, my second date with Hemingway. The last page is finally turned and the book is sent back to the library. Tears at the train station and promises to keep up. I won’t be lying when I say that our second encounter left me exhausted, and the departure – somewhat relieved. From the beginning the dinner date was promising to be romantic, if not exotic: travelling to the far away, mid-century Spain and joining the guerrilla troops behind the fascist lines. The entertainment – destruction of a bridge. The exquisite dessert –Β  falling in love with a lost girl in the midst of cruel war. What could possibly go wrong?

Ernest is an attentive man. And by that I mean he spends fifty pages at a time to look at this tree and that brook, or dig around in a character’s brain for some distantly appropriate story to tell. He sure is a talented conversationalist. There is never a lack or words, or fear of repetition of the same concepts, but all of that is expressed in linear, blunt, and clear language. A girl never has to wonder twice about his intentions – he says exactly what he means. But does he always have to turn the subject of the conversation to his own, overly manly preferences? The book is filled with bull fighting and non-religious martyrdom, and coarse language (how dreadful!). Oh yes, don’t take him to a fancy restaurant, or else you will have cojones flying all over the place and get weird stares from other tables.

The main course was a bit chewy. There was a lot of philosophizing in the middle on the topics of courage and cowardice, or disbelief in the power of divination and palm reading. There was also so much walking, talking, eating by the fire, arguing, and “obscenity in thy milk” that I almost took a rain check on Hemingway and left the building. But then I decided not to be rude and give the guy a chance. The entire time, however, we followed the protagonist as he planned to blow up a bridge, listened to a highly opinionated aged woman, and slept around with a girl he thought he loved. And that’s the thing that irked me the most. The romance between the two was rather fast, unfounded if you know what I mean. To me it all seemed like a desperate attempt to get close to another human being in the time of violence and loss, rather than a genuine love at first sight. I wonder what Ernest thought about those two.

Then it was time to walk me home and reward all that dragged out suffering with a goodnight kiss for a grand finale! What a dramatic, perfect walk that was. Not to sound morbid, but I loved how Hemingway dashed young hopes and dreams to comment on futility of war. He only had to say “Listen. We will not be going to Madrid-“, and that short sentence made it to the top of the saddest, most heart-breaking moments in the entire book. It is somewhere along the lines of “we’ll always have Paris”, but more resolute and hopeless. If some of you have read this book, you’ll know what I’m referring to.

Finally, there were those last few steps and a lean in for the kiss and… and nothing. I was left standing there all by myself and wondering what just happened. Yes, that is how it all ends: on a big, fat cliffhanger. A girl could certainly stay up all night, trying to decipher what this ending could possibly mean, but honestly I was just glad that it was over with.


  1. LOL! I absolutely LOVED your review, Andrea! Hee hee! My first “date” with Hemingway was a disappointment and I did take a rain check. I was hoping it was my immaturity and not his writing but I have a feeling of trepidation that I was wrong. I’ll try him again sometime but I’ll know not to expect to be wined and dined. Perhaps a single potato that he can describe in copious detail.

    In any case, you made me laugh! πŸ˜€

  2. I’m glad you liked this one! I seriously feel like every Hemingway’s book is just another try out date. I really want to like him, but it’s just not happening for some reason. Maybe it’s not him, but me?

    I was recommended his short stories on multiple occasions, so maybe you can try that? It’s like speed dating in that way… Okay-okay, I’m done with silly references! πŸ™‚

  3. What a lovely review style! I’ve really enjoyed reading it! I’ve tried Hemingway once and wasn’t impressed, but then I was little and wasn’t impressed by a lot of things. I should probably try again πŸ™‚

  4. This is on my list for this year…didn’t realize it is 400+ pages, which means I’ll either love it or hate it. πŸ™‚ Great review! I’m starting to like books that philosophize and end on cliffhangers, so that will be something to look forward to.

  5. Thanks Ekaterina! I think Hemingway requires a lot of patience and worldly experience to really appreciate him. It’s confusing how an author famous for his minimalistic prose can be so daunting sometimes.

  6. It’s a good book in general. I really liked the beginning and the end, so maybe if it wasn’t so long in the middle, I’d actually give it five stars. I would advise to stock up on snacks and free up an afternoon to get through that one. Good luck!

    P.S. The ending style was actually identical to that of Oryx and Crake I just read earlier this month. What a coincidence!

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