1930s Classics Other

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

A Farewell to Arms

Five words from the blurb: WWI, horrors, nurse, loyalty, lovers

I hadn’t read any Hemingway so when I was offered the opportunity to review the new special edition of A Farewell to Arms I jumped at the chance. Fans of the book will love this new edition – it is beautifully produced, includes photographs of Hemingway’s revisions, and for the first time it brings together all 39 different endings considered by the author.

Unfortunately I discovered that I’m not a Hemingway fan. Some people describe his writing as “sparse”, but I think “wooden” is a more fitting description. It reads more like a poor quality translation than the work of an American Nobel laureate.

She was carrying a thin rattan stick like a toy riding-crop, bound in leather.
“It belonged to a boy who was killed last year.”
“I’m awfully sorry.”
“He was a very nice boy. He was going to marry me and he was killed in the Somme.”
“It was a ghastly show.”
“Were you there?”
“I’ve heard about it,” she said. “There’s not really any war of that sort down here. They sent me the little stick. His mother sent it to me. They returned it with his things.”

The central characters were flat and lacked emotion, a problem made worse by the fact this book is about World War I and contained many scenes that should have been disturbing.

Another problem was that the romance was unconvincing. I became so frustrated that I decided to abandon the book, but intrigued as to why it is an enduring classic I decided to read the Wikipedia plot summary. This revealed that the praise seems to revolve around the ending; so I picked up the book again and read the final section. I’ll admit that the ending was poignant and slightly more emotional than the earlier sections, but the writing quality was so poor that I failed to be moved.

This special edition contained 39 different endings, most just a paragraph long. It was interesting to read all the alternate endings and to see Hemmingway’s thought process as he changed things. It was also good to see photographs of the original manuscripts.

But despite all these wonderful extra features I’m afraid I can’t see why  A Farewell to Arms is an enduring classic. If you’re a fan, please enlighten me!



The Best Books of 2013? Part 1: Authors We Know and Love

I’ve been flicking through publisher catalogues and asking booksellers and publicists about the most exciting books to be published in the UK in 2013. Next week I’ll let you know which debut authors I’m excited about, but this week it is the turn of the authors we are already familiar with.

Here are the 2013 new releases that caught my eye:

Note: UK release month shown, date may be different in other countries.

Instructions for a Heatwave

Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell

February, Tinder Press

Maggie O’Farrell is an author I discovered through blogging. I enjoyed The Hand That First Held Mine and The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox so am looking forward to trying her new book about a father who unexpectedly disappears. It is already getting a lot of buzz from the blogging community so it is definitely one to look out for.

A Hologram for the King

A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers

February, Penguin

Zeitoun is one of the best books I’ve read this year and I think Eggers could become one of my favourite authors. A Hologram for the King has already been a big hit in the US. It makes its UK debut in 2013 and I’m looking forward to reading Egger’s take on an American business man struggling to make a life for himself in Saudi Arabia.

The Childhood of Jesus

The Childhood of Jesus by JM Coetzee

March, Harvill Secker

I have a love/hate relationship with Coetzee’s writing, but I’m hoping his latest book about a man and boy arriving in a mysterious desert camp will be more similar to Disgrace than his autobiographies.


Benediction by Kent Haruf

March, Picador

Haruf is one of those authors I’ve always wanted to try. I own a copy of Plainsong and will probably try to read that first, but I’m sure a lot of you will be excited to learn that he is releasing a new book about life and death, family and community, set out on the high plains of Colorado.

The Last Runaway

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier

March, Harper Collins

Chevalier is famous for writing The Girl with the Pearl Earring. She returns in 2013 with a new book set in a Quaker community.

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid

March, Penguin

I loved The Reluctant Fundamentalist so hope this new book about a man’s journey from impoverished rural boy to corporate tycoon will be just as compelling.

The Hired Man

The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna

March, Bloomsbury

The Memory of Love was shortlisted for the 2011 Orange Prize and, although it was a bit too slow for me, the quality of the writing was enough to persuade me to give her another try. Her latest book is set in a quiet Croatian town, but again looks at the effects of war on a community. I’m sure this is one to watch when the prize lists start to be announced.

Raven Girl

Raven Girl by Audrey Niffenegger

May, Abrams Comicarts

I think this book wins premise of the year:

 A postman encounters a fledgling raven while on the edge of his route and decides to take her home. The unlikely couple fall in love and conceive a child – an extraordinary raven girl trapped in a human body.

A Place in the Country

A Place in the Country by WG Sebald

May, Hamish Hamilton

Sebald is another author I’ve always wanted to try. His new book fuses biography and essay to reflect on six of the figures who shaped him as a person and as a writer, from Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Jan Peter Tripp.


In by Natsuo Kirino

June, Harvill Secker

Out by Natsuo Kirino is my favourite thriller so I’m very excited that her new book is going to be published here later this year. In contains an investigation into a best-selling author and promises to question the differences between life and literature. I hope it lives up to my exceedingly high expectations.

Untitled Novel by Diane Setterfield

May, Orion

I couldn’t find any details about this book, but if it as compelling as The Thirteenth Tale it will be a great book.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

May, 4th Estate

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun and Purple Hibiscus were both outstanding. Her new book sees a slight change in that it is moving away from Africa and spanning three continents, but I am sure it will be just as good. I am very excited about this one.

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

May, Bloomsbury 

I loved The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns so was excited to hear about Hosseini’s third novel. This one investigates the relationships formed between brothers and sisters and promises to be equally compelling. I can’t wait to read it!

Grace and Mary by Lord Melvyn Bragg

May, Sceptre

I only discovered Melvyn Bragg’s writing this year, but I am shocked he isn’t more widely read. I’m going to continue reading The Soldier’s Return Trilogy, but this is one to keep an eye out for too.

A Suitable Girl by Vikram Seth

Date TBC, Penguin

I have been saying it for months/years, but I really am going to read A Suitable Boy soon! It’s much anticipated sequel is going to be published next year so that should give me the incentive to start now!

Untitled Novel by Rohinton Mistry

December, Faber

Saving the best for last! I know nothing about this book, but I am still more excited about it than any other 2013 publication. Rohinton Mistry is my favourite author and it doesn’t really matter what it is about – Mistry’s writing is so amazing that I guarantee this book will be fantastic!


Which 2013 books are you most looking forward to?

Come back next week to see which books by debut/lesser known authors I’m looking forward to!

1990s Books in Translation Recommended books

The First Century After Beatrice by Amin Maalouf

The First Century After Beatrice Translated from the French by Dorothy S. Blair

Winner of the 1993 Prix Goncourt

Five words from the blurb: beans, guarantee, birth, male, survival

I hadn’t heard of The First Century After Beatrice until it was recommended by A Fiction Habit, but I’m very pleased I read it and am surprised that this compelling, thought provoking book is not more well known.

The First Century After Beatrice begins with the discovery of a bean on an Egyptian market stall. This bean, derived from the scarab beetle, is said to guarantee the birth of a male child. Word quickly spreads and societies that favour male offspring are quick to take up the new invention. Slowly the population begins to be dominated by men and this book gives a realistic portrayal of the devastating effect this has on the human race.

The writing style was unusual in that the ideas were modern and very relevant to our society today, but the text felt as though it had been written a hundred years ago. It had the feel of a timeless classic, with fantastic quotable sections on almost every page:

‘You must think of public opinion as some bulky individual lying asleep. From time to time, he wakes up with a start, and you must take advantage of this to whisper an idea in his ear, but only the simplest, most concise idea, for he’s already stretching himself, turning over, yawning, he’s going to fall asleep again and you won’t be able to keep him awake or awaken him again.’

The pace was quite slow, but I was gripped to the moral dilemmas and interesting concepts that were introduced throughout. It reminded me of Blindness, one of my favourite books, in the way it took a simple idea and followed it through to its frighteningly realistic conclusion.

My only complaint was that the writing was quite detached from the horrors that were occurring. Normally this would be a big problem for me, but in this case I was so busy trying to decide what I’d do in each scenario that I didn’t mind the coldness.

Overall this was a fantastic book that deserves a far larger audience. Highly recommended.