Review: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Set in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Havana, Hemingway’s magnificent fable is the tale of an old man, a young boy and a giant fish. This story of heroic endeavour won Hemingway the Nobel Prize for Literature. It stands as a unique and timeless vision of the beauty and grief of man’s challenge to the elements.

I don’t really think I’m meant to love Hemingway. He’s not my kind of writer- macho, bullfighting, misogynistic and drunken. I’ve been wary of him, though I know people who adore every word he ever wrote. I decided one day to pick this slim novella up just to give my head a bit of a break from writing, but it didn’t really scratch that itch either.

This is quite a slow novella, with really not much happening. Man goes on boat to catch fish, catches fish, fish fights, life sucks, man is hungry and sleepy and way over his head etc etc. Much discussion of baseball is had in here too, which I know precisely nothing about.  Not my kind of book at all.

However, the descriptions of the sea and of the various fish, as well as the Santiago’s life and knowledge of the ocean was beautiful and fascinating. Hemingway’s writing in these bits of the book was transcendent, brilliant and vivid. I felt like I could smell the salt water and hear the water around me… though that may have been because I was in the midst of a massive thunderstorm.

He remembered the time he had hooked one of a pair of marlin. The male fish always let the female fish feed first and the hooked fish, the female, made a wild, panic-stricken, despairing fight that soon exhausted her, and all the time the male had stayed with her, crossing the line and circling with her on the surface. He had stayed so close that the old man was afraid he would cut the line with his tail which was sharp as a scythe and almost of that size and shape. When the old man had gaffed her and clubbed her, holding the rapier bill with its sandpaper edge and clubbing her across the top of her head until her colour turned to a colour almost like the backing of mirrors, and then, with the boy’s aid, hoisted her aboard, the male fish had stayed by the side of the boat. Then, while the old man was clearing the lines and preparing the harpoon, the male fish jumped high into the air beside the boat to see where the female was and then went down deep, his lavender wings, that were his pectoral fins, spread wide and all his wide lavender stripes showing. He was beautiful, the old man remembered, and he had stayed.

Oh, yes! This was definitely the most moving quote of the book. It’s so utterly beautiful.

It’s written for a lot of symbolism, which I personally dislike. I didn’t like the way Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby to be symbolic in nearly every sentence, which led to me hating the book. This book wasn’t quite so bad, but had it been longer, it would have probably annoyed me much more than it did. This book is very obviously not just about a man catching a fish, and Hemingway wants to beat you over the head with that fact. Again, not a huge fan of this style, but for a novella of this length, it was tolerable.

It was for that reason alone that I didn’t just scream “CUT THE LINE, YOU SILLY CREATURE! GO HOME AND SLEEP!”

The middle dragged, but I believe this was somewhat intentional- we’re meant to feel the boredom Santiago felt out there on the sea, waiting and waiting for something to happen. When something does happen, it causes him pain, but he keeps going. Nice metaphor for life, really. I just disliked being beaten over the head with it. Darling, I get the point! It’s boring and painful! Claps for Ernie!

I wish the book had continued as it began, because the beginning was by far my favourite section of the book. This is mainly where the gorgeous discussion of the ocean is. The middle drags, and the ending is depressing. Not that depressing is necessarily a bad thing, I just really wanted the poor bugger to take his fish home and show it off!

I will probably read A Moveable Feast, as I’ve heard many good things about it, but The Old Man and the Sea was a bit of a letdown. It wasn’t terrible, and I’m very glad I’ve read it, but I’m very unlikely to go back to this later on.

3/5 Stars

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5 thoughts on “Review: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

  1. Oh dear – I rather feel I might not get an further with Hemingway that A Moveable Feast…. :s

    • I know other people loved this one, including Kirsty at Literary Sisters, but yeah… definitely not convinced. My boyfriend didn’t think too much of this either (I read his copy, so glad I didn’t buy it!), and he’s ridiculously easy to please with literature.

      • I don’t go for animal cruelty, being a veggie – so that doesn’t help my relationship with Hem….

  2. Hemmingway is hit and miss for me, but this one happens to be a hit on my side. The imagery just kind of touches me in ways that some of his other books do not. Thank you for the review!

  3. Pingback: Classics Club Challenge | bookarahma

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