As a result of reading shortish books over lunch breaks I am becoming a great fan of those books, like this one by Ernest Hemingway, that can pack a great deal of deep thought into something just shy of 100 pages long. It takes a real talent to squeeze in some big issues into something of that length and one of the best example I have come across so far is The Old Man and the Sea.
The story revolves around an old fisherman who has gone 85 days without a catch who used to be accompanied by a boy who has since been moved to another boat by his parents who want him to fish with someone luckier. He loves and supports the old man and helps him prepare for what turns out to be a gruelling fight between a large fish, the sea and them the sharks. The old man returns home exhausted, defeated and damaged and the boy, who was missed by his friend and no doubt feels partly responsible cries as he sees the old man who has probably fished for the last time.
Is it well written?
There is much more going on here beyond just a story of an old man fishing and there are references to baseball and the great players in a search to define heroic masculinity as well as lots of thoughts on the generation gap. The old man is seen as unlucky despite all he can teach the boy and is too proud to share his true poverty and loneliness. The story grips you because for the first half of the tale you are wondering if he can catch a fish and then for the final third hoping and praying having done so will not destroy him.
Should it be reead?
As a tale of persistance and bravery it is gripping and a tale of loss and loneliness it is hard to find anything else that can move you as much. It is powerful and deserves to be read by those both at the age spectrum of the boy, inbetween and at the old man’s age where no doubt there is an even deeper understanding of the risks to the individual of pushing it to the limit.
You so want the old man to succeed but even when he seems to have made it the shark’s circle and the struggle to catch the fish proves to be too much for him to handle on his own
Highlights from the final third and a bit of the book
* The old man and the Marlin compete with each other for three days until the fish tires circles the boat and is finally killed with the harpoon but the struggle has left the old man with a sore back and shoulder and hands cut to ribbons
* The Marlin is too big to put in the boat so he lashes it to the side and then is attacked repeatedly by sharks. He manages to kill four but the first dies with his harpoon stuck in his flesh and the fourth breaks off the knife he had tied to the end of the oar
* When two more sharks come all the old man can do is try to fight them off with a club and they sail away but by now half the fish has been eaten and then at midnight a pack comes and finishes the fish off
* He struggles a shore and manages to get to bed and the boy finds him there in the morning and cries over the damage to his hands while the rest of the fisherman amaze at the skeleton of the fish still strapped to the boat
* The boy promises to come back on board with him but after leaving the old man to go and get medical supplies he is crying because he knows that this fish will be the last that the old man catches
Full review will come tomorrow
This tale gets better and better and quickly expands beyond a simple battle between man and fish to a battle for the old man against the world.
Highlights from just shy of the second third of the book
* The old man catches a tuna but is still on the look out for a big catch and then his line gets pulled by what can only be a large Marlin who having got hooked drags the boat out to sea and keeps swimming through the night
* The old man is suffering from cramp, back pain and a bleeding hand and misses the boy who could have helped not just wrestle with the fish but help fight the loneliness but he is determined to catch him
* Having pulled the boat along the Marlin finally jumps through the water and is longer than the boat but gets the admiration of the old man who cannot help but admire his adversary
The real question is will he catch him or die in the attempt? The final chunk tomorrow…
Just because a story is short it doesn’t mean it lacks power and there is a certain skill to working with just one or two characters and Hemingway shows how well it can be done in the first few pages of this book.
Highlights from the first third of the book
* The story starts with an old man who has been at sea for 84 days with catching anything coming in from another bad day at sea and meeting a boy who he started taking fishing when he was five but who has moved to another boat because his father believes the old man in unlucky
* The relationship between the boy and the old man is very close but both have a great deal of pride so the old man pretends he has food and comfort and the young boy plays along but goes out to get him food
* Plagued by bad luck the man sets off for a fishing trip at the crack of dawn throws out his lines and waits hoping that today he will catch a big fish
Will he? More tomorrow…