Amy Reads Books

For Whom the Bell Tolls (Vintage Classics)

For Whom The Bell Tolls - Ernest Hemingway Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls was published in 1940 and tells the story of Robert Jordan, a young American volunteer on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War. The plot begins when he is sent to blow up a strategic bridge in the Spanish sierra, where he joins a group of rebels led by Pablo and Pilar, and falls in love with young Maria.I really enjoyed this novel, which surprised me as I read it on the back of a slightly disappointing novel also set in a Civil War (Half of a Yellow Sun). The first thing that surprised me about this novel was the very short time period that the events took place in-it all seemed to happen within around three or four days; so the novel is padded out through flashbacks and insights into the feelings of Robert. However, Hemingway manages to keep the tension up throughout, especially in the last few hours before the plot is supposed to get into motion.Another aspect of Hemingway's novel that I really liked was his lush descriptions of Spanish landscapes and lifestyles. As someone who has been to Spain for numerous years, although never to this region, reading Hemingway's descriptions felt like imagining a postcard in my head. A quick Google let me know that he did actually work as a journalist during the Spanish Civil War, and thus he could have visited the places he describes so well.Despite telling the story of a Republican group, a group that aims to destroy the fascist forces of Franco, and it is obvious that Hemingway sympathises with their plight, he doesn't allow for the group to get off scotch-free. The ordeal that is survived by Maria is horribly brutal (her parents are shot, her head is shaved, and she is raped), but so is the description of the slaughter, led by Pablo, of fascists in a Spanish town where they are beaten by two rows of townspeople and then thrown off a cliff. The brutality of war from both sides is well depicted, and as such, For Whom the Bell Tolls could be read as an anti-war novel.The novel isn't without humour, however, and this generally comes from a very colourful cast of characters. Robert Jordan is something of a cipher, we learn little bits about his background as the novel progresses, and Hemingway devotes a lot of time to his interior thoughts; we see his nerves, his belief (wanted or not) that things are not going to go as well as he hopes and we see how he desperately tries to surpress feelings of doubt and disillusionment. Pablo is drawn as a man who seems uncertain about the path he has taken. Pilar, who seems to be the one really in charge, is a bold, brave woman, with far more passion than her husband. Then there is Maria, Robert's love interest who, to be frank, isn't all that interesting-we know she has been through some really rough experiences but we know only a little about it because her general role is to be there for Robert, in every sense of the word. Although, the cliched 'the earth moved' conversation aside (although apparently the phrase originated in the novel), Hemingway's writing of sex scenes is very non-explicit, replaced with beautifully descriptions of the natural world.However, the one thing that really irked me about the novel was the dialogue. As Hemingway is an American novelist, he would have written in English-so it seems strange to me that the conversations that took place in the novel read as though they were literal translations from Spanish. This meant that occasionally words were used that didn't work ('molest' I think being one of them) and there were vague attempts at showing the distinction between the familiar and formal speech of Spanish; but to me this strange dialogue constantly knocked me out of the story for a few minutes-it jarred with the gorgeous prose around it.That being said, however, I really enjoyed For Whom the Bell Tolls, and really want to read another Hemingway at some point; I'm thinking A Farewell to Arms dealing with similar issues, but this time set in Italy.