I’m so sorry I’ve vanished from the internet world for the past couple of weeks. I’ve been quite poorly with a throat infection, so it’s been a case of lots of broken sleep and liquids! But, I’ve recovered and I’m back to read through all my favourite blogs I’ve missed and post this review. I hope you can all forgive me and welcome me back with open arms.
Today’s review: A Moveable Feast. A Movable Feast is a remarkable little book. I absolutely loved it. It was brought back into the headlines after the Paris terror attacks last November. The book, published in France as Paris est une fête (Paris Is A Celebration), struck a chord with the mood of defiance in the wake of the attacks. In all honesty, it was this that brought my attention to this book, and I’ve finally managed to read it.
This charming little book is a memoir by Hemmingway describing the years he spent in Paris with his wife, Hadley, and young son, Bumby, after World War 1. Each chapter provides a snapshot into Hemmingway’s life and experiences in Paris. During this period many artists and authors were living in Paris and Hemmingway writes about his encounters and friendships with Ezra Pound, Ford Madox Ford, Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald. I love the way all these amazing people were in the same place at the same time. I only wish that I could have been apart of it. The people, the food, are all brought to life by Hemmingway’s narration.
“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”
Now, as some of you may know, I love Paris and Fizgerald, so this was another gripping factor to this book for me. A large proportion of this book is taken to describe Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda, more than any other person he meets. It was interesting to see how fellow Parisians viewed them and their relationship at this time.
The book closes with the notion of change. He ends the book with his affair with a young woman, who he associates with the wave of ‘rich’ people entering Paris, and changing it for him forever.
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
The book opens with Hemmingway discussing bad weather and the different cafes in Paris where people go to escape the cold and where he goes to write. The weather wasn’t so delightful here when I started reading this, so in my mind I was in those little Parisian cafes, a part of all the action. Hemmingway is working as a journalist for a Canadian newspaper, trying to begin a career as a ‘straight’ writer of short stories. He describes losing himself within his own writing, as he works at the cafe tables, his only distraction a pretty girl or a boorish critic.
“You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason.”
Hemmingway offers the reader character sketches of the artists and authors he met and came to know in Paris. I’ve mentioned a couple above, but what is interesting was his sometime fraught relationship with Gertrude Stein, his upmost respect for Ezra Pound. He describes the ultimate kindness of Sylvia Beach, the proprietor of Shakespeare and Company, a bookstore where many of the expatriate community congregate, including writers like James Joyce.
“He liked the works of his friends, which is beautiful as loyalty but can be disastrous as judgement.”
The vivid descriptions bring Paris to life as well as the characters that inhabit it, such as the waiters he befriends and the fisherman along the Seine River. He openly discusses his own career as he struggles to make enough money to care for himself and his family by writing short stories. Hemmingway talks openly about his own personal writing technique throughout this book. He describes himself as a quiet but quick tempered, somewhat impatient youth. Yet, his recollections are told from the viewpoint of a confident young man.
“There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it. But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.”
Hemmingway’s first encounters with F. Scott Fizgerald are rather frustrating. Their relationship isn’t so great to begin with. However, he does later become a loyal friend and confidant. Hemmingway describes Fizgerald as a gifted but insecure writer. He describes Fizgerald’s drinking problem, and how it is made worse by his wife who was mentally ill. Zelda is dealt with critically because Hemmingway believed she only wanted to bring down Fitzgerald and destroy him. I only wish I knew what Fizgerlad thought about this.
“Zelda was very beautiful and was tanned a lovely gold colour and her hair was a beautiful dark gold and she was very friendly. Her hawk’s eyes were clear and calm. I knew everything was all right and was going to turn out well in the end when she leaned forward and said to me, telling me her great secret, ‘Ernest, don’t you think Al Jolson is greater than Jesus?’
Nobody thought anything of it at the time. It was only Zelda’s secret that she shared with me, as a hawk might share something with a man. But hawks do not share. Scott did not write anything any more that was good until after he knew that she was insane.”
The book closes with the pleasant reminiscence of spending winters with his wife, and sunshine in the Austrian mountains hiking and skiing as well as working on his writing. However, the pleasant, positive time ends when ‘the rich’ discover him as a promising young writer and thus invade his life. He then chooses to have an affair with one of these new wave ‘rich’ women, resulting in the end of his narration.
“If the reader prefers, this book may be regarded as fiction. But there is always the chance that such a book of fiction may throw some light on what has been written as fact.”
If you love Paris and great figures in literature then this book is for you. It’s short and easy to read. It’s sheer joy from start to finish. The snapshot into Paris means you can imagine yourself there, a part of this moment in time. My only sadness is, I very much doubt these types of accounts are being written now by the great writers of our own generation.
Big love xx