Book Review: “A Farewell To Arms”

A Farewell To Arms

Long before reading “A Farewell To Arms”, I had decided I would like Ernest Hemingway’s work.

Before I’d read any of his novels in fact, or even any of his fantastic short stories.

Why? Because of one simple piece of writing advice attributed to him:

“Write drunk, edit sober.”

It’s maybe not the kind of advice our Fiction team offers would-be “Friend” authors, but it always struck a chord with me (for various reasons)!

Unfortunately, in a “Beam me up Scotty”/”Luke, I am your father”-style revelation, it turns out he probably didn’t say it at all.

But still, it looks good on my wall:

A Farewell To Arms

Photograph by Iain McDonald.

But what about the book?

The book tells the story of a young American soldier, Frederic Henry, serving as an ambulance driver in the Italian army during World War I.

When not engaged in the chaotic fighting on the Italian front, Frederic pursues an attractive American Red Cross nurse named Catherine Barkley.

The book is inspired (although not directly) by Hemingway’s own experiences fighting in Italy, and his own romance with a Red Cross nurse.

It intersperses ruminations on the futility of war with the main character’s pursuit of a better life with Catherine.

The day-to-day lives of the soldiers are depicting as a mixture of tedium and terror. A foreboding feeling hangs over every event, occasionally interrupted by periods of high emotion and drama — whether that be in battle, or in the protagonists’ growing relationship. 

At times, this balance is probably a little off. The periods of “action” are few and far between, and I did occasionally find myself wishing things would speed up a little.

There’s no denying, however, that Frederic’s journey is deeply affecting. And it’s of great interest to others like me, interested in the history of the World Wars.

Hemingway reportedly toiled away at the ending for “A Farewell To Arms” for some time. He wrote 47 different versions before he was happy!

As far as I’m concerned, he nailed it.

For more book reviews from the team, click here. 

Iain McDonald

Iain is Digital Content Editor at the "Friend", making him responsible for managing flow of interesting and entertaining content on the magazine's website and social media channels.