Sunday, June 08, 2014

Green Hills of Africa (1935)

I recently read Green Hills of Africa by Ernest Hemingway for the first time, but I think I recall my parents might have owned a hardcover copy of it. The illustrations in my paperback—called "decorations"—struck familiar chords anyway. I had the impression it was a novel, but it's actually nonfiction, a travel adventure dressed up in some of the clothes of fiction such as the usual Hemingway alternation between description and dialogue. A brief Foreword condescendingly and somewhat pretentiously implies he is working the territory we now call "creative nonfiction," the "nonfiction novel," and/or "new journalism." To be fair, Hemingway was there long before Truman Capote or Norman Mailer. It's possible to make the case for Green Hills as a species of novel, but chiefly it bears comparison to a Hemingway novel, which does reduce its innovation quotient somewhat. My favorite parts were when he talked about, or showed people talking about, reading and literature. Some of the hunting scenes were good too. But as usual Hemingway's awfully huge ego squats in the middle of everything like an overweight gorilla, and stinks up the joint a little. We are made privy to his petty jealousies over the hunting successes of another, perfectly likable man. Hemingway's squeeze on this safari, unbearably referred to as "P.O.M." (we find out what it stands for at the end, but I've forgotten and looking for it is somehow altogether too depressing), is a case study in what has been called—just as unbearably, I admit—"codependency." It's a creepshow. Now I know I've been complaining a lot about Hemingway's stoic, long-suffering shtick, and I suppose I should be happy he is exposing himself warts and all here. But I'm not. And why? Because he seems determined to depict these character flaws as unchangeable facts of life that must be borne under, delving into overly detailed rationalizations. It's the abuser cycle of eruption and contrition, with no sense that it can be dealt with and changed, or even that it's particularly a problem to be addressed, except confessionally. So we are back to the stoic and long-suffering. Even so, if one can look away from that (and you see it's hard for me), there are many lovely passages here, and I certainly enjoyed it more than my recent revisits to the two more celebrated novels.

In case it's not at the library.

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