What would Joe DiMaggio do? – Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea

by Steve

After this blog’s one moment of international fame, I thought I’d make a brief return to the work of your friend and mine, Ernest Hemingway.

So, to bring you up to speed on my Hemingway adventure, on the advice of this parish’s Steven Harris, I picked up the complete short stories late last year in one of those beautiful Everyman hardback volumes, using my Borders vouchers just before the place went belly-up. Then, for Christmas, as part of an array of writing-inspired gifts, my wonderful Significant Other gave me Ernest Hemingway on writing, a brilliant little book compiling many of Hemingway’s thoughts on writing and the life of the writer. So…I’ve been keeping up.

Last week I popped into one of those strange discount bookshops, that sometimes have some incredible bargains and other times have nothing but hopeless junk. This time, I got lucky. I picked up the slim The Old Man and the Sea, the story that won Hemingway a Nobel Prize for Literature.

My verdict? Well, I loved it. It is one of those stories that will stay with me a long time, hopefully forever.

And I used the word ‘story’ rather than ‘book’ quite deliberately.

Here we have a real tale, a fable even. Here we have an old man, a young boy, a fish and little else. Everything is honed down and necessary, like a good story should be. In its 100 or so pages there is no room for flowery prose, or padding. And while it is set in contemporary times, the 1950s, it feels like the kind of story passed from generation to generation, as old as the act of fishing itself.

The one concession to the modern-day is baseball. Oh yes, there’s another reason why I loved reading this, apart from Hemingway’s prose and its brevity (I do love a good short book to rip through). The Old Man’s mind often wanders to baseball, and in particular the great Joe DiMaggio, wondering how the Yankees’ great centre fielder would deal with the Old Man’s situation, being the son of a fisherman himself.

So, concise, timeless and it namechecks baseball. It’s as if this was written for me. Don’t you just love getting that feeling from a book?

I haven’t read a whole lot around the book yet, but it is clear that this is a book that divides opinion. There seems to have been a fair bit of criticism in terms of its symbolism, and if it veers too far from the writer’s famed realism.

I’ll just let the man himself reply:

“No good book has ever been written that has in it symbols arrived at beforehand and stuck in. … I tried to make a real old man, a real boy, a real sea and a real fish and real sharks. But if I made them good and true enough they would mean many things”.

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