Saturday, November 10, 2007

#72 - The Old Man And The Sea

The Hemingway phase continues. I finished The Old Man and the Sea last weekend but have been so busy that I haven't had a chance to put my thoughts down. It's a swift and sure novella that seems to be an almost perfect meditation on the classic theme of man versus nature. I can completely see how this tipped the Nobel Prize committee in his favour after it was written. The story, which follows an old Cuban fisherman on his last great run with a giant marlin in the Gulf Stream, seems simple at first, and somewhat matches Hemingway's stripped down prose, but it's actually quite complex.

Despite Hemingway's deeply unemotional prose, the book certainly isn't afraid to plainly state how pain and suffering refuse to play fair and how some people simply have bad luck (as Cormac McCarthy points out). You feel endlessly empathetic for Santiago as it becomes clearly apparent that despite eighty-four days out at sea, the fish are no longer swimming in his stream of luck. In a way, that's kind of the strength of the book too. This idea that bad things are always happening to good people. To men who have lived long, honest, impoverished lives.

It's also a good story to illustrate how human beings are simply powerless in terms of facing nature and winning. Like Sean Penn's Into the Wild, the landscape is as much a character in this piece then the old man himself. The small boat, the thin line, the hard tug of the marlin, they all combine to create an atmosphere the old man will never free himself from. I'm sure that there have been better words spilled about the book, so I won't go on here. My 1001 Books tome states that critical opinion is varied on The Old Man and the Sea, but I come down on the side that it rightly deserves to be called a classic and on the list.

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