The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

A tale well told…

😀 😀 😀 😀

The old fisherman Santiago’s luck has run out. For eighty-four straight days he hasn’t caught a fish, and is surviving only with the help of the young boy, Manolin, who once fished with him but whose parents have now insisted he go out with another luckier boat instead. Manolin feels an intense loyalty to old Santiago, and helps him each day with his gear, catching bait, and even buying him food when Santiago’s funds run out.

On this day it will be different. A fish takes Santiago’s bait – a huge marlin, so big that Santiago can’t pull him in. As the marlin sets out to sea, dragging Santiago’s little skiff behind him, Santiago must decide whether to cut the line or run with the fish. And so it becomes a matter of will, as Santiago battles with nature, with his own failing strength, with growing exhaustion and with his pride as a fisherman.

He always thought of the sea as la mar which is what people call her in Spanish when they love her. Sometimes those who love her say bad things of her but they are always said as though she were a woman. Some of the younger fishermen, those who used buoys as floats for their lines and had motorboats, bought when the shark livers had brought much money, spoke of her as el mar which is masculine. They spoke of her as a contestant or a place or even an enemy. But the old man always thought of her as feminine and as something that gave or withheld great favours, and if she did wild or wicked things it was because she could not help them. The moon affects her as it does a woman, he thought.

This is a beautifully written and absorbing short tale – mesmerising, almost, as hour after hour passes and still the fish won’t tire. Although written in the third person, once Santiago is alone on the sea with his fish, the reader is taken directly into his thoughts. He is a simple man, and his mind dwells on great successes and failures of his past, a lifetime’s experience all guiding his actions in this moment. He knows he is at the limit of his physical endurance as the line cuts his calloused hands each time the fish changes pace. He recognises that the pride of youth has given way to the humility of age, and wonders when that happened. But he still has enough pride to want to kill this fish, although he loves it for its strength and will and beauty.

The line rose slowly and steadily and then the surface of the ocean bulged ahead of the boat and the fish came out. He came out unendingly and water poured from his sides. He was bright in the sun and his head and back were dark purple and in the sun the stripes on his sides showed wide and a light lavender. His sword was as long as a baseball bat and tapered like a rapier and he rose his full length from the water and then re-entered it, smoothly, like a diver and the old man saw the great scythe-blade of his tail go under and the line commenced to race out.

I suspect people may have read all sorts of symbolism into this over the years and maybe there is lots and I just missed it. But for me, this is simply a tale well-told, by a man who clearly knew what he was talking about. As usual with Hemingway, there’s a degree of pondering on the meaning of masculinity, though less overtly than in the couple of longer novels of his I’ve read. It’s an old theme, man against nature, and Hemingway brings nothing new to it except his wonderful prose. And that alone makes this well worth reading.

Book 13 of 20

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TBR Thursday 251…

Episode 251

Another drop in the TBR this week – down 2 to 203! At this rate I’ll soon be below the magical 200 figure for the first time in centuries… millennia, even!!


Here are a few more that should make me wag my tail soon…

History

The Gathering Storm by Winston Churchill

It tends to be assumed that Churchill won the Nobel Prize for Literature mostly as a gesture of gratitude for his wartime leadership. However, apparently his histories are very readable and give an insightful insider account of events. This first volume covers the lead-up to the Second World War and therefore the period of the Spanish Civil War, so it might fit loosely into my challenge. 

The Blurb says: This book is the first in Winston Churchill’s monumental six-volume account of the struggle between the Allied Powers in Europe against Germany and the Axis during World War II. Told from the unique viewpoint of a British prime minister, it is also the story of one nation’s heroic role in the fight against tyranny.

Having learned a lesson at Munich they would never forget, the British refused to make peace with Hitler, defying him even after France had fallen and it seemed as though the Nazis were unstoppable. What lends this work its tension and power is Churchill’s inclusion of primary source material. We are presented with not only Churchill’s retrospective analysis of the war, but also memos, letters, orders, speeches, and telegrams, day-by-day accounts of reactions as the drama intensifies. We listen as strategies and counterstrategies unfold in response to Hitler’s conquest of Europe, planned invasion of England, and assault on Russia. Together they give a mesmerizing account of the crucial decisions made as the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

The Gathering Storm covers the Treaty of Versailles, the rise of Adolf Hitler, the capitulation of Munich, and the entry of Britain into the war. This book makes clear Churchill’s feeling that the Second World War was a largely senseless but unavoidable conflict—and shows why Churchill earned the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953, in part because of this awe-inspiring work.

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Classic Science Fiction

Earth Abides by George R Stewart

Hmm… when I chose this one for my Classics Club list back in 2016, I had no idea that it would seem so relevant by the time I got to it. Not sure that reading about plagues is a good idea at the moment, but we’ll see…

The Blurb says: In this profound ecological fable, a mysterious plague has destroyed the vast majority of the human race. Isherwood Williams, one of the few survivors, returns from a wilderness field trip to discover that civilization has vanished during his absence.

Eventually he returns to San Francisco and encounters a female survivor who becomes his wife. Around them and their children a small community develops, living like their pioneer ancestors, but rebuilding civilization is beyond their resources, and gradually they return to a simpler way of life.

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Fiction

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

After loving For Whom the Bell Tolls so much, I’m keen to see if Hemingway can blow me away again with this novella – one of my 20 Books of Summer

The Blurb says: The last novel Ernest Hemingway saw published, The Old Man and the Sea has proved itself to be one of the enduring works of American fiction. It is the story of an old Cuban fisherman and his supreme ordeal: a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. Using the simple, powerful language of a fable, Hemingway takes the timeless themes of courage in the face of defeat and personal triumph won from loss and transforms them into a magnificent twentieth-century classic.

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Vintage Crime

Maigret and the Reluctant Witness by Georges Simenon

Another for my 20 Books, and another Maigret. I had actually put Maigret and Monsieur Charles on the list but when I looked up the blurb I discovered it’s the last in the series, and since I’ve only read a few I’m not sure I want to read the last one yet. So I’m swapping it for this one…

The Blurb says: When the head of a powerful Parisian family business is murdered in his bed, Maigret must pick apart the family’s darkest secrets to reveal the truth.

Maigret is called to the home of the high-profile Lachaume family where the eldest brother has been found shot dead. But on his arrival, the family closes ranks and claims to have heard and seen nothing at the time of the murder. Maigret must pick his way through the family’s web of lies, secrets, and deceit, as well as handle Angelot, a troublesome new breed of magistrate who has waded into the case. And it’s the estranged black sheep of the family, Veronique, who may hold the key to it all with her knowledge of the depths to which the family will sink to protect their reputation.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?