Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton.
I recently went to Paris and found myself immersed with both the present day surroundings of the beautiful city and the fictional world of 1920s expat Parisian life as found between the pages of Hemingway’s Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises. There aren’t many occasions when your real and fictional worlds align, least of all when they are perfectly actualised by the author, but I really loved being able to identify the novel’s Parisian locations as I read.
Fiesta follows the expatriate life of Jake Barnes, an American ex-soldier, and his cronies as they enjoy living it up in the streets of Paris, San Sebastián and Pamplona. Focussed on the “rotten crowd” of Americans in Paris, those who lived off inherited wealth rather than earn it, Hemingway paints a vivid picture of the disillusioned, lost generation post-First World War.
That said, the story itself is fairly repetitive in a way that lends itself easily to skim reading with a quick summation being: they drink an extraordinary amount, they stumble home, they fight, they recover, it starts all over again. Old money allows for a fairly lavish lifestyle! The behaviour of the characters within alcohol-fuelled sessions leads the audience to determine who they are and how they fit in within expatriate life – Jake is an observer and instigator, the man everyone knows and who has the connections; Brett is the good-time girl, unable to commit or stand on her own; Cohn and Mike are both lovers and fighters, neither willing to give an inch and Bill is the happy medium, working on the outskirts.
Despite not being the ‘brand new favourite’ story I was expecting (a feeling I got with The Old Man and the Sea), Hemingway has worked his magic once again by creating a story that gets you thinking. Through the observant narrator of Jake we are able to examine the characters of Robert, Mike and Brett closely and how their actions reflect society of the time. Whether you like them or not, accept their actions of vilify their spoilt ways, this is a story about the characters and each is carefully constructed by an author of class. Fiesta is undoubtedly interesting, if not illuminating, but I believe stands for study rather than easy reading.