In this slim volume, originally edited by Hemingway's fourth wife and widow Mary Hemingway and published after his death, Hemingway relates stories from his years in Paris in the 1920s, when he was married to his first wife, Hadley. The narrative features Hemingway's friends and acquaintances, including F Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Beach, Ezra Pound and Ford Madox Ford. The details of this time in Paris include the names and locations of bars, cafés and hotels, as well as details of the locations in which Hemingway and his circle lived.
Hemingway and I have never gotten along very well. I made his acquaintance when I was at university and while I could appreciate the lean, spare prose, his themes were a bit too blokey for my taste. What appeared to be an obsession with war and bull-fighting didn't do much for me. So it's been many years since I've ventured to read any of his work. I decided to read this book because I was charmed by Woody Allen's film Midnight in Paris which features a very entertaining portrayal of Hemingway and because I'll be in Paris early next year and the idea of a literary walking tour or two is very appealing.
While this was an interesting book to read and has provided plenty of atmosphere and background material for walking around Paris, it did not endear me to Hemingway the man. The prose is as fine as I remembered it from my last reading of his work more than thirty years ago. However, there is something ..... it's hard to find the right word .... "ungenerous" may be the kindest way to describe it, about Hemingway's portrayal of his contemporaries. Stein, Fitzgerald and others* are held up to ridicule and virtually everyone in the narrative comes across as inferior to the author. Even at the end, when he regrets the affair which led to the end of his marriage to Hadley, Hemingway blames the other woman rather than himself. For all the romance of expatriate literary Paris in the 1920s which the memoir conveys, the image it attempts to give of Hemingway leaves something of a bitter taste in the mouth.
In his introduction to the book, Hemingway writes: "If the reader prefers, this book may be regarded as fiction. But there is always the chance that such a book of fiction may throw some light on what has been written as fact". I suspect that the portrayal of Hemingway as an essentially sober, hard-working, well-adjusted writer starving in a garret and surrounded by losers is the central fictitious element of the work. What I don't know is just how much this portrayal comes from Hemingway's own writing and how much it has to do with posthumous editing.
For all my reservations about Hemingway, I still enjoyed reading his prose and reading about Paris. I now want to read [b:The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas|527495|The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas|Gertrude Stein|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1348225160s/527495.jpg|2285834] and [b:Shakespeare and Company|428456|Shakespeare and Company|Sylvia Beach|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1328821013s/428456.jpg|417466] for different perspectives on a similar theme. The good things about the book make it worth 3-1/2 stars sliding towards 4 stars.
*Edited 26 July 2013. Having recently read [b:Everybody Was So Young: Gerald and Sara Murphy: A Lost Generation Love Story|127789|Everybody Was So Young Gerald and Sara Murphy A Lost Generation Love Story|Amanda Vaill|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1320427727s/127789.jpg|123064], I now realise that it wasn't only other writers whom Hemingway disparages in this work. He is particularly mean about Gerald and Sara Murphy, friends of Hemingway's who were very supportive of him. Hemingway doesn't name them, but refers to them as "the rich". He blames them for corrupting him into their way of life and suggests that they are to blame for the break-up of his marriage to Hadley. What a bitter man Hemingway became.