I’ve heard about this famous Hemingway book, but have never read it. Now I am reading it, and am pleasantly surprised by a few things:
- It’s short, like a novella, but without chapter breaks. It’s really more like a very long short story.
- The story format makes it immersive – you are deep in it, continuously, until the end. No chapter breaks, breathers or reminders of the format. You remain in the story, almost like it is one long sentence.
- The writing style is very simple and direct. It feels like a short, straight line between the character and the reader, with the observational aspects almost all from the Old Man’s mouth and mind. The third-person is there, but minimized.
- The themes of challenge and struggle, of man versus nature, and life versus death, are not framed heroically, but more personally, intimately. He is small compared to the ocean, he is battling his opponents (marlins, and later sharks), and he respects their power. This is very different from the matter-of-fact, somewhat detached rendition of bulls and bullfights in “Sun Also Rises”.
- The Old Man respects the Marlin, and almost reveres it. There is religious imagery and santification in the act of fishing. He prays to God while fishing. Maybe for him, seeing the marlin come up out of the water could almost compare to seeing an angel fly down from heaven. Many descriptions of fins as wings, and swimming as flying, and flying fish.
I haven’t read any Coles Notes or Wikipedia on this story (yet), but to me, this story feels deeply personal, rooted in love, fear, faith, and belief.
Hemingway seems to be staring deeply at his reflection in the surface of the water, confronting his fears and his mortality. It’s very personal and very beautiful.