So this was fabulous. Going to write it as if you know the ending, because really, this book was published in 1929 so at this point it’s no longer a spoiler…
Set in the First World War, it’s the story of an American ambulance driver in the Italian Army on the Italian front who falls in love with a Scottish nurse. There are descriptions of attacks, life behind the front lines, losing friends and the general unhappiness of war, which provide the setting for this love story.
Not knowing much about this book going in, other than it does not end well, I was surprised that the American was fighting with the Italians, and that the British nurse I’d heard so much about was actually Scottish. Some may argue Scottish/British, same deal — I am 1/4 Scottish and will argue differently.
So the American falls in love with this Scottish lady and I have to say I wasn’t interested in the story until the end when they escape together. That’s when I really got hooked, maybe because I knew of the tragedy that was about to ensue.
I have the edition of this with all of the alternate endings, where the baby lives, and it is so interesting to see how Hemingway worked through the various ways it could end. There are pages where photocopies of his writing with the actual scratchings out of lines and notes in the margins are visible, and it is fascinating to get a glimpse of his writing process.
Ultimately, the ending of A Farewell to Arms was beautiful in its simplicity. The final line:
“After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.”
That just hits me in the gut. So sad, but then again, what’s he supposed to do? His almost-wife and baby just died, he doesn’t seem to have anyone left in the world, so he walks back to the hotel in the rain. Tragic.
I liked this a lot, but did not love it as much as The Sun Also Rises. I am glad I read it because now I feel more legitimate in my claims that I am a fan of Hemingway.