Book Review: The Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway

The Garden of Eden – Ernest Hemingway (Scribners, 1986)

I’m a big fan of Ernest Hemingway (the writing more than the man himself but that’s a topic for another time) and I’ve read most of his writing. While in Washington recently, I spotted a Hemingway book I’d never read in a secondhand bookshop and so brought it home. It turns out that The Garden of Eden was published posthumously in 1986. I’m always wary of books published years after an author’s death. Would the author really have wanted this book made public? Is the story complete? Will it be as good as the rest of the author’s work? (The answer is often no.)

While The Garden of Eden is not Hemingway’s finest novel, it is a fascinating read and the style and setting will be very familiar to his readers. Set between France and Spain it follows David and Catherine Bourne on their honeymoon. Which is, in typical Hemingway style, a months-long holiday through Europe, spent fishing, swimming, and drinking a lot.

David and Catherine are utterly content when we first meet. They seem to have met and married in Paris after a short courtship. They’ve settled into a routine in a small town in the south of France where Catherine causes a small scandal by wearing shorts but they are otherwise accepted. David is a writer whose second novel has recently been published and he is beginning to receive very good reviews. Catherine encourages him to write but hates the sight of his news clippings and seems reluctant to discuss his book.

As the book – and the marriage – progress, Catherine begins to reveal to David her hidden desires. While Hemingway never goes into detail about these desires and the intimate moments between David and Catherine, it isn’t difficult to figure out what he’s alluding to. And, indeed, the book is more explicit than many others in its time and by Hemingway.

Then Catherine begins to involve another woman into their relationship and David and Catherine form attachments to her, both as a couple and individually. Predictably, this creates a lot of complications. David is writing more than ever but instead of writing the story Catherine wants him to, he’s begun to write a series of stories about his father in Africa. Hemingway’s descriptions of writing, his portrayal of David’s struggles and desires over his stories, feels terrifically accurate. Sometimes painfully so. The subtle comparison of David’s focus on his work and his growing focus on another woman, and Catherine’s reaction to both, is well done and fascinating to watch.

The book is sad, as most of Hemingway is, especially when it comes to marriage and romance. Catherine is much more fully developed than many of the women Hemingway wrote, though there are still many blank spots in her character. Some aspects of her past are alluded to but we’re told very little. In the end, I was left to feel that David was supposed to be a victim of her instability when, to my view, he was just as guilty for the destruction of their marriage. Yet, like Hemingway himself, it feels clear that David will never be satisfied in one relationship for long.

What I Read – March 2017

I’ve fallen behind in reviewing books but am working to catch up and get some reviews posted next week. In the meantime, here’s what I read this month:

EileenOttessa Moshfegh (Penguin Press, 2015)

The Dark and Other Love Stories Deborah Willis (Hamish Hamilton, 2017)

She was glad that was done. What a relief. But then again, if she could, she’d do it all over. Everything. Her whole life. She’d live it again, just for the small but real pleasures of a donut and coffee, of holding her daughter in her arms, of making money, of sleeping late, of waking up.

  • Deborah Willis, “The Nap”

How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen – Joanna Faber & Julie King (Scribner, 2017)

The Break – Katherena Vermette (Anansi, 2016)

The Garden of Eden – Ernest Hemingway (Scribners, 1986)

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara (Doubleday, 2015)

…and he realizes that this is the way it is, the way it must be: you don’t visit the lost, you visit the people who search for the lost.

  • Hanya Yanagihara

Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Knopf Canada, 2017)

The Dinner Party and Other Stories – Joshua Ferris (Little, Brown, 2017)

Didn’t Finish:

The Travelers – Chris Pavone

A Friday Favourite: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Although In the Skin of a Lion generally wins top spot when it comes to my favourite book, The Sun Also Rises is a close second. A glance at my shelves will tell you that I’m a Hemingway fan. I even have a t-shirt with the original, Art Nouveau book cover on it.

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Hemingway was a brilliant writer – concise, understated, and extremely powerful – and he certainly doesn’t need me to praise him. Nor should any reader of the English language require my introduction to him. I’ve read the majority of his fictional writing (and a good chunk of his non-fiction as well) and The Sun Also Rises remains my favourite of his. In this novel I think he captures the world as he saw it the best. The idea of the “Lost Generation” is best expressed and developed here, through the character of Jake Barnes and his compatriots. Jake’s love and relationship with Brett Ashley is frustrating and brilliant and tragic.

Although the “Lost Generation” – as soon here and as generally understood – refers to Hemingway’s own post-World War One setting, there is a lot in the novel for any young person to relate to. The setting of bull fights and European train travel may not be familiar, but the feelings of loss and confusion and struggles over morality and the essence of love and relationships continue to be universal.

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Past Friday Favourites:

In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje

30 Day Dress Challenge

Day 24 – Monday

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It’s finally happened. With only a week to go, I’m repeating a dress. This is the dress from Day 8.

In truth, this repeat is not because I’ve run out of dresses but because the dresses I haven’t worn yet are all pretty fancy. And today it’s pouring rain and it’s my day off. I’m going for comfort. .

Dress: Joe Fresh, thrifted at Value Village in Chilliwack

Necklace: thrifted in Los Angeles

Cardigan: Moon, purchased at The Bay

Slippers: gift (They’re Padraigs, which are the best slippers in the world. Seriously, I’m a girl who prefers to be barefoot more often than not and these are the only slippers I’ll wear)

I was going to put on shoes and make this a real outfit but this is more honest. I have no plans to leave the house today.

Day 25 – Tuesday

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Dress: Zachary’s Smile, purchased in Vancouver (Repeat from all the way back at Day 1)

Leggings: Hue, purchased at The Bay

Earrings: craft fair in Victoria

Hoodie: GAP

Boots: Tretorn

Still pouring rain but today I have to go out in it.

Day 26 – Wednesday

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Dress: Suzy Shier (I’ve had this dress for a while and I almost never wear it because of the unfortunate discovery that, in the right light, it’s sort of see-through. So it must be worn with leggings except it ‘s clearly a summer dress which is not generally a time I want to wear leggings. Fortunately, it looks like October outside today.)

T-Shirt: Out of Print, purchased at The Bookman in Chilliwack (Displaying one of my very favourite books!)

Tights: H&M

Earrings: Costa Blanca, purchased many years ago in Victoria

Shoes: TOMs

Day 26 – Thursday

Sorry, nothing new to see here. Lots of repeats, I’m afraid. The weather and my lack of fancy occasions are keeping things pretty normal. I did go outside and use my self-timer though, so that’s something different.

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Dress: GAP, thrifted in Cumberland

Earrings: purchased at Front & Company in Vancouver

Boots: Tretorn