Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Review: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Book cover of The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
The Old Man and the Sea was the first complete book of 2013 for me, chosen so I could start as I mean to go on - reading what I like and not being too scared of a book that seems imposing or too long. This book is arguably Ernest Hemingway's most famous, having won him the Nobel Prize for Literature. Somehow.

Plot summary: Set in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Havana, Hemingway's magnificent fable is the story of an old man, a young boy and a giant fish. In a perfectly crafted story, Hemingway depicts a unique and timeless vision of the beauty and grief of man's challenge to the elements in which he lives.

Do you ever hear so many wonderful things about a classic book, read it... and then assume that you must have missed something? Because while The Old Man and the Sea is fine as a story about a man and a really big fish, to me that's pretty much all it is. I suppose if I tried really hard I could make up something about determination and brotherhood, and I had an inkling about Santiago being Jesus, but I don't see the Nobel Prize-ism. Sorry.

Then again, I'm here to review the novel as a story, not a work of art. Just because it's clever or a classic, doesn't mean that the damn thing is going to be enjoyable and you don't have to pretend that it is. 

I have to admit to not really enjoying The Old Man and the Sea much. For one thing, I don't like fish in the slightest. I once had a panic attack in a pet shop because I felt like they were crowding me. And yes, yes - a story about a fisherman has fish in it!? I know, I was as surprised as you... Normally I can deal with them in literature, but this has some fairly graphic fishness that I Really Did Not Like. At one point Santiago has his head stuck inside a gutted dolphin.

Fish aside, as I understand that not everybody is as broken as me, it's still just an alright story. It does tell a story at least - there's a beginning, a middle and an end - and it's not some rambling diatribe on the meaning of life. The ending is rather anti-climactic, rendering the whole novella almost pointless.

Basically, I doubt that you'll genuinely enjoy this unless you a) enjoy fishing or b) want to search for hidden meaning. I know that I've come across as quite disparaging, but The Old Man and the Sea just wasn't for me.

Read more about Ernest Hemingway! 


  1. I haven't read any Ernest Hemingway but I can't say this book particularly appeals to me. I feel like I'd probably have the same reaction as you!

  2. There is never anything wrong with saying, "This isn't for me." Personally, I haven't read much Hemingway. He kind of falls into this era-hole of novels I haven't read, and I haven't ever been in the mood for him either. But I *do* like fishing so maybe I'll give this a look on some lazy summer day.

  3. I loved this book, and I read it in high school. Guess I "got" the hidden meaning.....

  4. I definitely want to TRY this book, but I've heard that Hemingway's a pretty divisive writer. Some people love his clean style and seem to get a lot from it, other people are left cold. I have a bad feeling I'm going to be left cold by at least SOME of his work, just because I don't always do well with books that are 'supposed' to have some kind of hidden fable-esque deep meaning but are actually pretty dull! I just end up rolling my eyes, I'm afraid, it's not my thing at all.

    Maybe I'll start with Fiesta/A Moveable Feast/Death in the Afternoon - something I already have some interest in for the setting and context and might like better! :)

  5. I want to try this book. I read Hemingway's Moveable Feast last year and really enjoyed the writing style!

  6. I'm not overly bothered by fish (although I prefer to eat them than be near them generally!) but even I'm not convinced by this at all. I think mainly because if I'd picked it up and it hadn't prompted a Nobel Prize win, there's no way that I would buy it or read it. I just don't want to read about fish...I like an Aesop fable as much as the next person but a fable disguised as a story about fishing? Meh...

    Also, what is with you picking out books with people investigating the insides of dead animals?! I mean, I know the first one was *technically* my fault so maybe I shouldn't exactly mention it...let's move on!

  7. I totally get what you mean about differentiating between reviewing it as a story and not as a work of art. That's precisely why I don't really like to review 'classics' because whilst I can see their literary merit or whatever, they're simply not as enjoyable!

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