14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars
Style is no substitute for a flawed content, 22 Dec 2007
A Farewell To Arms is a book that divides opinion. Whether you are a fan or not you have to accept that Hemingway manages to describe scenes with a rich texture that few writers can match. You can picture every setting.. and smell it and feel it. Hemingway can depict a time and a place with such precision that you feel you are not just viewing a scene like on a stage, but that you are actually there.
There are many similarities between Farewell To Arms and the later work "For Whom The Bell Tolls". Both star an American main character in a European war. Both feature a doomed romance which is immediate and passionate with the threat of imminent death forcing an early intimacy.
However where "For Whom The Bell Tolls" is a gritty study of men and women at war, Farewell is a romantic melodrama with the war as a frequently distant backdrop.
The main characters in Farewell To Arms are obsessed with each other. Both put their relationship before their duty. They flee the war to be together to the complete exclusion of friends, comrades in arms and those who might need their care. This is a story of all consuming love; love tragically lost.
By contrast "For Whom The Bell Tolls" is a war story where the romance is sacrificed to the cause of a greater duty. Perhaps whether you prefer one book or the other is a reflection of how you yourself view the characters. For me the self obsession of the characters in Farewell To Arms is hard to stomach. The main character is a man who runs from the war, lives on money donated by his estranged family and feels no sense of any broader duty. The greatest war in European history is being played out across his morning newspaper whilst he drinks to excess in neutral Switzerland. His partner is a nurse who abandons her post to be with him. They are difficult to like and the tragedy that befalls them is like an appalling event that occurs to someone you barely know and care nothing for.
This lack of engagement is what makes this book so disappointing. As a romantic tragedy it needs us to identify with the characters. Instead we tend to dislike them and are untouched by their fate. By all means read Farewell To Arms. You will enjoy the scenery but the storyline may leave you untouched.