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For me, a dull and affected style of writing
on 8 March 2015
I feel I'm missing out somewhere. This is widely acclaimed as a beautifully written masterpiece. But I did not find it so. I agree that it's a reasonably good story (but very simple, and taken from a true event, I understand), and that some of the writing conjures up images of the sea quite well. There may well be powerful allegories or metaphors buried in the tale, although I couldn't be sure (and Hemingway said otherwise - "There isn't any symbolism. The sea is the sea. The old man is an old man" etc. "The fish is a fish").
But I find his writing style awful. His sentences look to me as though they have been translated from another language by someone with poor, rather childlike, writing skills. I wanted to edit half his sentences - either too short, or several flat clauses joined together with many "and"s, lacking helpful punctuation, and looking like a caricature of "spare" writing. Just flat and toneless. Or, as EH might have put it: "I read the book and I found the sentences dull and I found the lack of punctuation unhelpful and I found the writing style irritating and intrusive and mannered".
I know that is heresy, and academics get paid for telling us how great his style is, but to me this "great style" is emperor's clothes. It would not be tolerated from any other writer. I've found similar problems with another couple of books of his I've read, but in this short novella he reaches a peak of affected dullness of writing. Gore Vidal referred to Hemingway's style as "careful, artful, immaculate idiocy of tone", and I agree with a quarter of that. A better view of writing, for me, comes from Elmore Leonard, who said "If it sounds like writing, I re-write it." Wise words, sadly written too late for Hemingway, whose prose more than most sounds like writing with a capaial W, to hear. Not that he would have changed a word anyway. While many think Hemingway was a great writer, Hemingway KNEW he was a great writer. And I can't say otherwise, whatever my opinion.