It was with some anticipation that I picked up this little book, just 126 small pages. I come to Hemingway’s writing as a complete novice, this is the first of his books I have read so I opened it with no expectation and high expectation at the same time – if that makes sense.
A Moveable Feast is Hemingway’s account of the years he spent in Paris in the 1920s, when he was finding himself as a writer, soaking up every ounce of Paris along with his wife Hadley & other American ex pats who would come to be known as ‘The Lost Generation’. Knowing that he had written it 30+ years later, I wondered if it might be a little rose tinted or over sentimental. It is obvious from the start that he has lived and breathed Paris, interestingly though he says he didn’t know it well enough in the early days to write about it.
Each chapter deals loosely with a different topic – from his writing in the various cafes around Paris and his enjoyment of the original Shakespeare and company bookshop to his acquaintance with Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Ford Maddox, and Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.Several chapters are given to his relationship with the Fitzgeralds, he talks of Scott being a good friend but he also talks of it being a difficult relationship, affected by Fitzgerald’s excessive drinking and the fragile mental health of Zelda. I wonder what Scott Fitzgerald’s view was on their friendship?
Lack of money and hunger were a constant and Hemingway writes with real passion and joy about the meals they did get to eat and the wine, a way was always found to drink wine.
I was especially looking forward to Hemingway’s references to his wife Hadley. A while ago I read The Paris Wife, a fictional account of the same period written from the point of view of Hadley. Whilst The Paris Wife is a novel, the author Paula McLain obviously knew the facts well so it was a nice balance to then read A Moveable Feast which interestingly, Hemingway also invites the reader to view as fiction. He writes very fondly but in a slightly detached way about his wife with an especially poignant comment near the end:
I found that really sad.
Even though this book is small, I could write and write about my thoughts on it but then there would be nothing left for those who still have the pleasure of discovering it. I found Hemingway’s writing to be matter of fact, with an almost childlike quality to it, or to his observations at least. It is also very personal, despite the various friendships and acquaintances he writes about, there is something quite solitary about his experiences I thought.
Regardless of what else was going on the priority was always his writing, as well as learning his craft he had the less lofty goal of feeding himself and his wife. Establishing a routine & discipline in relation to his writing was crucial to Hemingway, he sounds as if he could have been quite grumpy when interrupted.
I loved reading this book and could imagine sitting at a table across from Hemingway in one of those Paris cafes as he sharpened his pencils and lost himself in his writing. The book was published in 1964, three years after Hemingway’s death, it is important to know that I think when reading it. I hope it is not too intrusive to be reading something that Hemingway didn’t have the final say over publishling himself
I’m curious to read more about this fascinating group of people and to read some of Hemingway’s stories – I suspect his style of writing would either appeal or not, with not much inbetween, I hope I love it.
I have especially enjoyed reading this knowing that Bellezza has also been reading it at the same time and I can now see why people enjoy read a longs so much – I can’t wait to read Bellezza’s thoughts on this and am going to head over there now to find out….