Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The Old Man and the Sea

The old man and the sea
The Old Man and the Sea
Ernest Hemingway
 "Set in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Havana, Hemingway's magnificent fable is the story of an old man, a young boy and a giant fish. It was The Old Man and the Sea that won for Hemingway the Nobel Prize for Literature. Here, in a perfectly crafted story, is a unique and timeless vision of the beauty and grief of man's challenge to the elements in which he lives. Not a single word is superflous in this widely admired masterpiece, which once and for all established his place as one of the giants of modern literature."

   The old man and the sea is one of those novels that features on every “books to read before you die” list ever created. It’s a classic, though one of the more divisive ones. More than any other classic novel, I have seen people criticise The old man and the sea, many saying simply that the book is boring.
   This criticism is a bit of a relief for me as it’s always a little awkward to read a classic and then say you didn’t like it...well, maybe that’s the wrong thing to say. I did enjoy this novel, though perhaps not as much as I had hoped.

   I was always under the impression that not a lot happened in the book, that it was just, well, an old man and the sea. This lack of action is what led so many people to find the book boring. I, on the other hand, generally love stories where not much happens so I was looking forward to this quiet read.
    However, during the course of the novel, the old man hooks a gargantuan sword fish and is dragged out to sea for days forced to eat his previous catch to stay alive, later on, when the beast is finally landed, he returns home battling sharks along the way. It’s actually a pretty action packed novel which put me off slightly.
   I was put off by how unrealistic the plot was. While I had been lead to believe it was the tale of an old man’s final fishing trip, his last hurrah, when I read the novella, the plot felt cartoonish. The gigantic fish transported the narrative into the fantasy realm and I struggled to get back to reality.

   It is a beautifully written book though. While incredibly short, it is perfectly weighted and you finish it feeling that nothing more need be added and that there was nothing that should be removed.
    Despite finding the noel more action packed than I had hoped, I also enjoyed the moments of quiet contemplation as the man was dragged out to sea. He sits patiently on the bough of his boat waiting for the fish to tire himself out and contemplates his life and his aging body, all the while gaining a loving respect for the beast that he is trying to land. It’s peaceful and melancholic and easily the thing I enjoyed most about the novella.

   Ultimately, I think my opinion of the book came from my mindset as I read it, as is so often the case. As I read it, I wasn’t in the mood for close examination of the text and wanted to just sit and read. The old man and the sea is a book steeped in religious allegory and rewards close reading and critical analysis. As a casual read however, I found it a little off putting and I couldn’t simply enjoy the text without a voice in the back of my head telling me that I should have been paying more attention.
   I’m still fairly undecided on this one, I loved the style and language of the text but an unrealistic plot I hadn’t expected and my general mood while reading it spoiled it for me. It’s a book I’ll return to some time in the future when I’m ready to dive below the surface to get to grips with what the book is actually about. 

Ernest Hemingway

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