Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 18, 2009

The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway

The Sun Also Rises was Ernest Hemingway’s first serious success – published in 1926, only four years after James Joyce’s Ulysses.  It is hard to imagine two books less like each other than these: Joyce, the great Irish modernist, exploring the limits of language (not to mention the patience and fortitude of his readers) and Hemingway, the great American exponent of plain language and tough, terse prose.

Anyone who wants a review, analysis, or crib notes about The Sun Also Rises has only to Google for them and there they are in abundance.   I don’t intend to add to the plethora of words about this ground-breaking book except to make a case for why a lover of Australian literature should make the time to read it, and why wannabe Hemingways should tread carefully when they seek to emulate his style.

I think that anyone who’s a serious booklover should read at least some of the great 19th century classics: Pride and Prejudice; Jane Eyre: Great Expectations; Wuthering Heights; Silas Marner; a Thackeray, a Trollope; a Thomas Hardy; one of the Russians – preferably Tolstoy; something by Balzac; and something by Henry James.  Yes, there could be endless arguments about these choices, which are basically just the classics that I read as a teenager.  Yes, I could be more inclusive; more international; less Eurocentric; and yes, I could suggest a better gender balance or fewer dead white males.  Blah-blah-blah.  (I could even suggest an Australian classic as you might have expected me to).  Well, there is nothing to stop people choosing other books as well, or substituting different authors and titles.  My point is that  these few would give any reader a sense of 19th century style and preoccupations, and would also demonstrate the universality of the human condition over time.

A reader with that kind of understanding of the development of the novel is then in a position to recognise the audacity of Hemingway’s departure from existing writing styles and his influence on 20th century writing.  It’s also easy to understand his appeal: straightforward, direct, minimalist, easy to read.  Anyone can whip through a Hemingway in a day or two.  And because he was a master of his art it works: his stories are original, powerful, and haunting.

But alas for many who admire his writing, it’s too easy for copycat efforts to become tiresome reading.  Few can achieve the impact that Hemingway did with short, declarative sentences, vivid images and simple prose.   (A little too vivid if you don’t care for bullfighting!)  Most writers need an adjective or adverb here and there if the prose is not to become pedestrian.    Lyricism laid on with a trowel is painful to read, but it’s equally easy for minimalism to degenerate into paucity of vocabulary.  Simplicity that lapses into dull, plodding sentences is all too common, especially in novels that feature the seamy side of life where the characters have the vocabulary of eight year olds.

It’s important to read Hemingway, and enjoyable too, but it seems to me that we have all moved on and his heyday is over.  In a multicultural and global world, book characters ought not all sound the same, and writing styles should reflect the rich diversity of the cultures we share.

There’s a terrific review of this book at Hannah’s blog.

It’s included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.


  1. Nice commentary Lisa. I’m assuming from what you’ve written that you liked it? I’m sure I read this but it would have been 35 or so years ago and I can’t recollect any details. I would like to refresh my Hemingway memory one day – perhaps with A farewell to arms.


    • Oh yes Sue, indeed I did like it, and A Farewell to Arms is my next choice. Can I make a suggestion for a Hemingway audio book to ‘refresh your memory’? Dig up a copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls read by Campbell Scott ( and listen to it on one of your trips: it is so brilliantly done that I have borrowed it from my library three times and could happily listen to it again.


  2. I’ll remember that…though I hardly ever listen to audiobooks. We usuallly listen to music when we travel, but this could be a good one. As you know, I think, we took the Ruth Park one Sword and… to Port Macquarie which is a pretty long trip. However, this audiobook was so long that we still haven’t finished it. Now Mum and Dad are in their house, we in ours, and we haven’t worked out how to go about finishing it. I think for a group “read” like that a shorter one is the go!


    • Yes, and FWTBT is about 15 CDs long, from memory…


  3. Re. But alas for many who admire his writing, it’s too easy for copycat efforts to become tiresome reading.

    I’ve been having that problem with Elizabeth Harrower’s The Long Prospect, but it’s not Hemingway who’s got to her, it’s D.H. Lawrence. The whole book is made up of strident sentences and characters who feel so deeply that they don’t understand their own emotions.

    Lawrence can make this work, or, at least, he does for me — the rapt attachment to the natural world he shows in a book like Sons and Lovers makes sense of the idea that his people should struggle to articulate their thoughts, surrounded as they are by such a welter of unconscious living things (flowers, trees, etc), but Harrower doesn’t have that same attachment. Her people, who suffer emotions without trying to work out what might have stimulated them, just seem too lazy to make the effort.


    • *chuckle* I’ve found the most interesting stuff because of this reference to Elizabeth Harrower, Deanne! I’d never heard of her, so I Googled, and (even though I didn’t find anything helpful about Harrower) I found some treasure instead! See my latest post

      Update 17/4/17 I stumbled across this conversation about Elizabeth Harrower when I was looking for something else, and had a quiet chuckle about ‘never having heard of her’. Since I wrote this post back in 2009 Elizabeth Harrower’s novels were released through the Text Classics collection and not only are her novels now widely read (including by me, see but she has also been nominated for lit prizes including the Miles Franklin!


  4. To be fair, I dug out one of her short stories after I made that post, and it didn’t have the same problems as the book. In the short story she didn’t load her characters down with emotions that she couldn’t imagine or describe, and if she felt any temptation to flop out another sentence like, “Helpless as lead figures in the sun they watched the separation of the indivisible and felt nothing,” [TLP, pg 111] then she resisted it. Now I wonder if she was a natural short story writer and the long book was too much of a stretch. Not her forte.


    • Will you be doing a post about her, Deanne? I Googled her (because I’d never heard of her) and couldn’t find out anything much. I’ve now found an entry for her in my Oxford Companion, but that of course is not where I tend to look these days, and I think (from what I read in the Companion) that her novels should have a page each on Wikipedia. See Lisa


  5. LOL Dare I say that most of what IS there in Wikipedia was put there by moi! When I was trying to get Aussie women writers in there with at least a little info. Perhaps it’s time to stop blogging and start Wikipedia-ing again! And, time for you to retire Lisa!! I see memoirs and wikipedia in your future!


  6. No, no, no, I love reading your blog! What is needed here is to *share* the Wikipedia task!


  7. Well, thanks Lisa, I appreciate that… I am feeling a little quilty about Wikipedia at present though. I’ve done little bits of adding info but haven’t done any more extensive articles for quite a while. We do need to share the task!


  8. I typed out a rough blog-post about The Long Prospect then decided not to post it because it was all pure wailing and howling. I’d just finished the book and two hundred pages of sentences like the one above had driven me to a pitch of squealing irritation. “Separation of the indivisible”? You what now?

    I wrote:

    “The characters are all types: the main character is a sensitive girl growing up among dolts, and the sensitive girl is sensitive from beginning to end and the dolts are doltish from beginning to end, and we know that the girl is better than they are because she’s interested in books and we know the dolts are worse than she is because they, oh my, oh shock, oh horror, drink alcohol and watch television and curl their hair and *don’t read books.* And this is thundered home with such sour and snobbish persistence that I wound up on the side of the dolts.”

    I’m glad of that Wikipedia article. I was wondering if she was still alive. So there’s that question answered, thank you w’gums.


  9. Glad to be of service DKS! Clearly I should read her to check her out!


  10. I found the short story in The Oxford Anthology of Australian Literature, if that’s a help. The novel came off the $1-$2 table in the Kill City bookshop in the city, and I picked it up mainly because Christina Stead was quoted in the blurb. “A book subtle and straightforward, withheld and passionate,” she reckoned.


    • I don’t have the Oxford Anthology, only the Companion. When was it published? Maybe I can pick up a copy 2nd hand…


  11. Loved the review Lisa. Good on you for steering clear of well trodden ground. Also good advice. Hemingway works because he is minimal but implies so much. Imitators can’t hope to measure up.


  12. Thanks, Gabriel – I’ve just read your review and enjoyed it very much – as indeed I often enjoy your blog posts.


  13. I really enjoyed reading this review – really thoughtful… Just to let you know, I have linked it in my latest post – which is also a review of The Sun Also Rises. Pleasure to read your thoughts.

    Thanks for sharing



  14. Thank you, Hannah, and I’ve linked to your review too because I liked it so much.
    Your book club sounds like fun with all those themed nibbles to enjoy!


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