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?