Ernest Hemingway's For Whom The Bell Tolls, in addition to having a title that yours truly thinks is one of the coolest on the market, is one of the world's classic war novels and is widely considered Hemingway's best novel. I was particularly impressed with this novel's intense realism. Hemingway was a soldier in WWI and served as a war correspondent in the Spanish Civil War, so his portrayal of combat and partisan life behind enemy lines is authentic and gripping. (Warning: A few of the scenes describing brutal atrocities against civilians, though told through flashback, are a bit difficult to read. The chapter describing the liquidation of one town disturbed me profoundly. I thought my readings about Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia had made me hard to shock. I stand corrected.) The real treat for me, though, was the characters. Robert Jordan is not my favorite protagonist, but I do like how complex Hemingway makes him. He is practical and levelheaded, but a bit distant and isn't always sympathetic. Robert's personality quirks were refreshing, because they made him seem more real than the flawless hero of many books. The supporting cast is superb. Hemingway's Spanish guerrillas are so colorful that the come alive: the brutal, inscrutable guerrilla leader Pablo; his brash, willful wife Pilar; morally upright, noble guide Anselmo; foulmouthed, hotheaded Agustin. By the time I finished this book, I felt like I knew them all.
I enjoyed this book, but I thought the pacing was uneven. The first and last parts of the book focus on the complicated mission to destroy the bridge and were suspenseful and entertaining. The middle part, however, slows down to focus on Robert's romance with Maria, a traumatized young woman who the partisans rescued from the fascists. I thought the romance was overly simplistic and a bit too pat. I just couldn't buy the "I saw you and immediately decided to devote my life to you" aspect of their relationship. Part of my problem was that, despite the constant talk of how wonderful their relationship was, it seemed more like blatant lust than true love to me. Also, Maria struck me as being so bland, especially as compared to the other Spaniard characters, that I didn't find her that interesting. I didn't dislike her; on the contrary, I felt sorry for her, but she seemed one dimensional and didn't intrigue me. My only other problem (and this is an odd one) is the profanity. Hehe No, I don't mean that there is too much. In fact, there was too little of it, if that makes any sense. Hemingway, in order to make this novel more marketable, choose to use euphemisms in place of cursing, That didn't bother me, novels with really heavy cursing annoy me, but he also chose to use the word "obscenity" in place of cursing. This confused and distracted me, especially when it was used multiple times in one sentence! This caused me to stop and try to decipher what was being said, so it ended up just disrupting the reading experience. As long as language is not used gratuitously, I do not mind it and actually would have preferred it in this case, because it would have been easier to read.
Pacing and language aside, For Whom The Bell Tolls is a powerful war novel with an exciting story and compelling characters. I have always been fascinated by Spain, but I am not as familiar with the Spanish Civil War as I should be. (Most of my knowledge is about foreign involvement in the war, rather than the actual conflict itself.) Hemingway's realistic, well-crafted book intrigued me and made me want to learn more.
Announcement: I loved posting three times a week during my winter break, but, alas, I returned to school this week. I like school, but this means that I can only post once a week now. (Waaa!) I will continue to use Wednesdays as my day to post reviews, as I did last semester. (My apologies for being late! Life has been crazy lately.) Unlike last semester, my reviews will be posted in the afternoon or evening, rather than the morning. Thanks to all of you for reading! I will try to continue to give you at least one post a week while I am in school. The good thing is I am taking World Lit. II with my amazing professor, so I should get to blog on some of my assigned reading.
Next Week: I will try my best to review Terry Pratchett's Guards, Guards! I have fallen in love with Discworld and am looking forward to blogging about this combo of humorous fantasy and crime.