Recently, I wrote about the challenges that we as authors present our characters with. I talked about how it’s important to bring them face to face with the challenges they need, even if those are not the challenges they want.
Reflecting on how facing challenges makes us (and our characters) grow reminded me of the reason I did not like The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. I do not mean to imply that the book is anything less than a masterpiece (it is) or that it fails at what I believe Hemingway set out to do in writing it (it does not). I just personally did not like it.
Perhaps I should reread it. I haven’t it since I was required to read it in high school, and I’m sure as a 30-something it would strike me differently now. But when I read it, the thing that I took away and have never forgotten is the impression that NOTHING HAPPENS.
Which is odd, because some things DO happen. There are location changes. Someone even dies. And the novel is set in Spain for heaven’s sake, which is my happy place. (I almost got a doctorate in Spanish lit thanks to Don Quixote but walked away before oral exams and dissertation).
So, why did I get the impression nothing happened in that novel?
Because no one changes. To whatever extent the characters are presented with challenge and opportunities to grow and become better, deeper, more moral people, they do not respond. And of course, if you’re read Hemingway and this novel in particular, you understand that that is the entire point.
He is writing about the so-called “Lost generation.” He is revealing and exploring that sense of being lost, examining why they are lost in life and why they seem content to drift aimlessly from bullfight to fly fishing to drinking, diversion to diversion to diversion, without any depth or search for meaning in their existence. It’s a theme worth exploring for sure, and the more I write here, the more I feel I probably should reread it.
It’s a fantastic novel. But I didn’t personally enjoy it, because what I like in a novel is characters I can root for as they strive to better themselves through overcoming the obstactles in their path.