The book club I joined was throwing a party for a member who is off to Paris. The member preferred a Shu Shi dinner with or without book discussion. A French member took control. An expensive French restaurant was booked, several hundreds of kilometres removed from France and not that close to Michelin stars. The book to be discussed would be “Hemingway in Paris, A Moveable Feast”.
The restaurant was way too expensive for a poor, budding writer like me. It was too expensive for quite a few others as well. Six went to the party. I passed.
The book was a different matter. I had read it at least once. As that was a while ago, I dug out my ‘90s pocket edition. It had developed a yellow patina and “Contents” to page 32 had come unstuck. The scene I remembered, was Hemingway’s neighbour buying goat milk. Hard to believe, Paris was once a city through which herds of goats walked, delivering fresh milk on the doorstep.
Hemingway started writing his twenty stories in 1957 and finished revisions in 1960. His stories describe life in Paris as it was during the 1920s. And the Paris where Hemingway and his then wife Hadley were living, was already changing. In “Evan Shipman at the Lilas”, waiters are forced to shave off their moustaches, when a new owner decides to turn the unpretentious French café into an American bar.
Nearly all the other stories are also based in Paris. Most of them are about Hemingway’s friends. The last story, however, is about the winters he and Hadley spent in Germany and what caused their marriage to break down.
I found Hemingway’s stories about Gertrude Stein an interesting addition to her “Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas”. Then there are the now famous three stories about Scot Fitzgerald, who had already written “The Great Gatsby”. Sylvia Beach comes across as a thoroughly nice person. Her Paris bookshop has become a shrine now. But I doubt it is still run in the same fashion.
Many critics consider this book to be one of Hemingway’s lesser ones. Their reasoning: by the time he it, Hemingway was a wreck and this shows in his writing. The stories are based on early notebooks he rediscovered years later.
Jordison is in two minds: “…the product of a man in terminal decline as much as the triumphant recollection of one beginning to realise his true powers. Except, it doesn’t read like that. One of the most impressive things about A Moveable Feast is how sure and how hopeful it seems. How much fun it all is. … “ (Guardian)
The first time I read this book, I was totally absorbed in reading about Paris and the people Hemingway describes. This time, I still enjoyed the book for the same reasons. But I also noticed, how much Hemingway puts into his book about writing, the art of writing, and the hard work it was for him – when young in Paris and undoubtedly still towards the end of his life.
In the book, Hemingway remarks how he is able to enjoy reading some world classics once, but not on rereading them. This is not the case with “A Moveable Feast”. Hemingway may have been a wreck when he wrote these stories; they are skilfully written and the book remains a thoroughly good read.
“Hemingway in Paris, A Moveable Feast”. Author: Ernest Hemingway. Collection of short stories, first published 1964. Edition used: Granada Publishing Ltd, UK, 1982