Book Review: A Farewell to Arms

Friday 27 January 2017 by

A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway, Vintage Classics, Book, Reading

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Published by Vintage Classics

In 1918 Ernest Hemingway went to war. He volunteered for the ambulance service in Italy, was wounded and twice decorated. Out of this experience came A Farewell to Arms. Hemingway’s description of war is unforgettable. He recreates the fear, the comradeship, the courage of his young American volunteer, and the men and women he meets in Italy, with total conviction. But A Farewell to Arms is not only a novel of war – in it Hemingway has also created a love story of immense drama and uncompromising passion.

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I still love Hemingway. His writing is everything I aspire to. For Whom the Bell Tolls is one of the best books I’ve read… although A Farewell to Arms might just beat it to the post. Before moving onto the review, can we appreciate the beauty of the book cover? Vintage Classics have some of the most beautiful jackets around, and this is definitely in my top 5 favourite book covers of all time – because it encapsulates Hemingway and this novel so brilliantly.

As for the book itself… to begin with, there’s something all the more haunting about Hemingway’s writing because of what he leaves out. There is so much left to the imagination – mere suggestions – that you are drawn ever deeper in to the tale.

A Farewell to Arms tells the story of an American lieutenant in the Italian ambulance service. And that is all there really is to it – the story is our lieutenant experiencing war and love. Italy is barely sketched out for us, but you can practically smell it as you read. It is intense – like a high pressure before a storm, always there but barely visible. The characters are almost faceless – with only brief references to their appearance – yet they are comrades standing at your shoulder. It’s how you would talk about someone you know so well, you wouldn’t need to describe them in any great detail because they are just there, ever present.

The novel is brutal and raunchy and haunting, and yet it is never obviously any of those things. Hemingway writes in a matter-of-fact way, simply laying down the facts as simply as possible and letting the reader fill in the blanks. When the lieutenant is injured in a blast, you feel the confusion and fear and pain, and when he falls in love with the British nurse, you feel his infatuation and bewilderment, and yet there is nothing more than a few lines.

You might think this is lazy writing, but Hemingway is completely the opposite. His writing is so precise it hurts. And that’s what makes his tales so appealing – they’re almost mythical. You know the story, so you only need the slightest prompt to remember it. A Farewell to Arms is a story so familiar that it’s comforting to read, and so new that it makes your heart pound.

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