So far, May has been a very interesting month for reading. As I mentioned in a recent post, I decided to participate in a month long readathon called the 1900 to 1950 readathon. This is my first readathon, and I was very excited to find a large selection of books from this era on my giant bookshelf.
Today, I thought I would tell you about two of the books I’ve read; one modern classic: A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, and one crime classic: Sweet Danger by Margery Allingham.
This was my first experience of Hemingway, and my second experience of Margery Allingham (I’ve also read her more famous work The Tiger in the Smoke). I had very mixed feelings about both books.
First, let’s look at A Farewell to Arms. I found the style of writing strange, and this took me a bit of time to get used to. The protagonist tells his story in almost a stream of consciousness, with liberal use of the word ‘and’ joining long sentences. What I did like about this was the way he made this stream of consciousness even more disjointed and nonsensical when the character had been drinking, which I thought was very good. I give Hemingway the benefit of the doubt that the style is very much a choice and not poor or lazy writing, but at times it came across as the latter, particularly early on. It was a very realistic book, and I was left with the feeling that all of the war elements may well have been based on Hemingway’s own experiences. Although World War 1 plays a large part in this story, in that Frederick Henry is an American lieutenant serving with the Italian ambulance service, there was less war in the book than I had originally assumed there would be. Henry is injured before we see much fighting, and while in hospital he falls in love with an English girl who he had previously met and started a relationship with.
My main problem with A Farewell to Arms was the characters. I felt I wasn’t being given much to go on to make me care about Henry. He told us every detail of all the food and drink he’d had each day, and all about his comrades, but his descriptions of Catherine Barkley, the woman he supposedly loves, are sketchy at best. She comes across as barely there, a very under-drawn character who seemed to have no mind of her own at all. As a result of this, I found it was hard to care about their so-called love story. Which was a shame because their eventual ending could have been very sad and powerful, but instead I found it abrupt and bleak.
I did find myself reading A Farewell to Arms with a sense that something major was going to happen and I was interested to see what it would be. There were parts I enjoyed and even found moving, such as the retreat in Italy. The straightforward and direct style of writing impacted the way I experienced the final part of the book. It was sad but it didn’t move me to tears, for reasons it is difficult to explain without spoilers. I am unsure whether to try another Hemingway book in the future or not.
In contrast, the language of Sweet Danger felt quite unnecessarily complicated, and I felt more like I was reading a very old fashioned book, even though it was published later than A Farewell to Arms. This book followed Albert Campion, who is Allingham’s main investigator in a lot of her books, on the trail of an ancient European crown and the title that goes with it. He was trying to both find these things and restore them to the family to whom they rightfully belonged. As in A Farewell to Arms, we are not given much to go on about any of the characters, and some of the later developments come as a surprise because they’ve barely been mentioned or even hinted at previously.
Unfortunately, I didn’t find this plot very interesting. Allingham throws in details to draw you in, such as a mysterious dead body, stumbled upon by Campion’s man/ bodyguard/ general dogsbody. Then she barely returns to these other than to give throwaway and seemingly random explanations for them. Everything that happened in this book was either barely advancing the convoluted plot, so that nothing appeared to be happening for about 200 of its 250 pages, or it was completely bizarre. All the tangents and side plots brought very little to the story and just left me feeling that the book was somewhat crazy. For example, in the middle of the book Campion is seemingly sent away to South America, with no real explanation other than diversion. Then in the final fifty pages the book descended into non-stop action as the plot was speedily wrapped up.
In conclusion then, I didn’t really enjoy Sweet Danger, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about A Farewell to Arms. Both had elements missing that I felt I needed in order to fully enjoy them. I am glad I’ve read them both, and I don’t think I would have got to them without the readathon. With A Farewell to Arms, I felt like I was expanding the range of what I have read, and it is always interesting to read something that is completely different to what you normally read. In the case of Sweet Danger, I was glad to read some classic crime that wasn’t Agatha Christie, but I could immediately see why I love Christie so much more than other crime writers.
Have you read either of these books from the 1920s and 1930s? If you have I would love to hear your thoughts: please do leave me a comment. I have also talked about these two books in my mid-month mini wrap up on booktube, which I will link below in case you’d like to watch it.
- Currently Reading: The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey.
- Currently Listening to: The Inimitable Jeeves by P.G. Woodhouse.