Jazz Age January: A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

Book Review: Burial Rights by Hannah KentA MOVEABLE FEAST
by Ernest Hemingway

Non-Fiction: Classics
Scribner; 1964
Paperback; 236 pages
Source: Purchased

A Moveable Feast is the first Hemingway book I’ve read since my high school English class reading of A Farewell to Arms, and although I enjoyed it, I’m not sure it was the best place to start reading his work.

Unfinished and published posthumously, A Moveable Feast is Hemingway’s memoir of his time spent in Paris with his fist wife Hadley in the early 1920s. Also included in this “restored edition” are many Paris sketches that I think weren’t meant to be in the book but that provide interesting insights into the author’s life.

On the one hand, I found reading about vibrant jazz age Paris and its players to be fascinating. Hemingway belonged to a community of truly luminous artistic figures including F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, John Dos Passos, Ezra Pound, and Ford Maddox Ford. It was really interesting to read about Hemingway’s relationships with them — especially since many of them are characterized rather irreverently!

On the downside, this book was kind of hard to follow. I don’t know if it’s because it was unfinished or because it’s Hemingway’s writing style to jump around and make references to things he hasn’t explained, or something else. If I recall correctly, the book’s introduction (or was it the foreward?) mentions that Hemingway’s alcoholism had a horrible effect on his memory. He probably didn’t remember his time in Paris all that well, and his alcoholism may have also impacted his writing ability.

My understanding of this book was really helped by my earlier reading of The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. This historical novel covers a very similar time-span to A Moveable Feast, and it was interesting to see how the stories paralleled each other. On a few occasions that Hemingway would mention something out of the blue, like coming back from Toronto after Bumby’s birth without ever having mentioned that they went to Toronto in the first place, I would have been confused if I hadn’t read McLain’s novel. It helped clarify the facts where Hemingway is vague.

On the whole, I enjoyed A Moveable Feast and thought it was a good way to start my Jazz Age January reading! Although I don’t think this was a good entry point into Hemingway’s writing, I’m glad I read it. What should I read next to become better acquainted with his work?

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18 thoughts on “Jazz Age January: A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

  1. Thanks for the excellent review. Oddly enough, I just recently bought a copy of A Moveable Feast at a second-hand book shop. I’ve read almost all of Hemingway’s fiction, but somehow never got around to reading Moveable Feast. Now I will.

  2. I had to read this for a memoir grad class…I just read it through without thinking too much about it because I just needed to know what we were talking about for class. I’ll have to go back and reread. I seem to have that with most Hemingway books – I miss a lot.

  3. Your right about writing style but I think that Moveable Feast is effected by when it was written, that is a long time after the events. It does feel a bit disjointed but I kind of took each chapter as an individual entity and as a kind of brief sketch of what ever the subject of that chapter was, it was almost like a conglomeration of short stories or short journalistic pieces. How about reading The Sun also Rises, it deals with Paris and the expat community at the time, like Moveable Feast, before it moves on to Spain. It has the advantage of being relatively short and Hemingway’s writing style makes it a fairly easy read. It is the first major work and it is the novel that he was working on in The Paris Wife. I read it last year after reading Paris Wife, I kind of expected not to like it, I had always been put off by the bull fighting and thought I would hate it but I actually enjoyed the book despite that. I still don’t really get the whole masculine, lets go kill big animals thing but the book was enjoyable and gave me things to think about.

  4. “The Sun Also Rises”! I’ve read a few of his works and it’s the most characteristic of his style, plus it’s also entertaining. For reference, I’ve also reading “A Moveable Feast,” “The Old Man and the Sea,” “A Farewell to Arms,” and about 15 of his short stories. “The Sun Also Rises” was definitely my favorite, but I’d recommend some of his short stories as well.

  5. I suggest The Sun also Rises too. It’s covered in A Moveable Feast, and it’s a good read. If you want a little more serious, you can try For Whom the Bells Toll – another good one.

  6. This was one of the books I was planning on reading for Jazz Age January. I find with Hemingway i either love or hate his books. I am hesitant about this one since it was unfinished, but the real life aspects of it intrigue me.

  7. Hemingway is a bit of an acquired taste… I read A Farewell to Arms and his short story Hills like White Elephants. I’m not too keen on his writing style personally but I’ve been meaning to read A Moveable Feast.

  8. I must admit that though I am curious in a way about this book I would probably not pick it up. I have been hearing a lot about his not so easy writing style and it does not really pull me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  9. I heard this is a really important work for writers to read – but why? is it very well written? Does it impart craft lessons? I feel like teachers have recommended it to me. I picked it up last summer and then put it down again.
    I haven’t read any Hemingway save Farewell to Arms. His short, declarative sentences aren’t really my style. But I was still interested to read your review of this one!

  10. I feel like a crappy bookworm for saying this, but Hemingway has never really done it for me. I remember reading The Sun Also Rises in high school one summer and all I retained from it were some bull fights and wine skins. Reading The Paris Wife made me slightly more compassionate to Hemingway’s tortured artist-ness, but mostly just made me think he was a dick. Meh. Hemingway.

  11. I read A Farewell to Arms twice in a row in high school and have not since read anymore Hemingway. I intend to though! By the looks of the comments, The Sun Also Rises might be my next stop.

    If you liked reading about that group in Paris, I highly recommend Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald. It’s like The Paris Wife, but about the Fitzgeralds instead of the Hemingways. I loved it!

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