‘ve read a number of Hemingway stories and pretty much enjoyed them all. This one was a little tougher. While, yes, Hemingway could carry a tale of a man fighting an unseen fish along on the open sea, there were some long evenings in this one at a dinner table, a lot of small talk. Yes, a true test for an experienced reader.
I can even now imaging Hemingway calling me a bastard for criticizing him.
Still, the story is a slow one, a tale of a May-December romance between two people who might have been better off not lingering about one another. First, there is Colonel Richard Cantrell, a past-his-prime veteran of two world wars fought for Italy. He’s got a number of injuries, some to his body, others, as they say, to his soul. Frankly, he’s just a cranky cuss with a weak heart and a perchance to under- and over-medicate himself, almost as if he’s willing himself to die.
And then there is Renata, a beautiful contessa of nineteen, tender and beautiful, who finds himself smitten on this craggy old warhorse. And thus we wander the beautiful sights of Venice (where the action takes place amongst all this scenery porn), with the Colonel musing and smoldering and thinking about the world and the people in it. Renata, we never see as anything but background. Mostly it’s him – his dialog, his thoughts, his friends, his ideas, his demands.
I suppose this story was a bit like a ship without a keel, slowly making its way to its home port via a wandering path. I wasn’t sure what the point of many of the scenes were – the Colonel would start a war story and then dismiss it. Even when he was sitting her down, near the end of the book, to explain his darkness to her, the stories we jumbled an inconsistent. So I’m left wondering if this was some great master plan of storytelling or simply Hemingway knocking off early for the day (yes, I know, You bastard!). But it wandered through and eventually went somewhere and there was the back cover and that was the book.
A strange little tale, something to take on if you want to try something new. I did enjoy it, more from the flow of the disjointed story than anything else. Worth a look. Christ, at least it isn’t Harry Potter.