Although I despise the overall smartass macho behaviour of Hemingways male protagonist, For Whom the Bell Tolls deserves every bit of praise it got since its publication.
Yet I am still a bit torn about what to write here, because with every aspect I want to highlight as being amazing and extraordinary, comes a ‘but’.
First of all, the writing is outstanding. Hemingways prose not only draws you in plot-wise, but reaches a level of awesomeness, only few other writers ever achieved. On so many instances, I paused and wondered how someone can write like this? Some sentences seem to be so simple and short at first glance, yet they contain an overwhelming amount of meaning, wisdom and emotion. While it doesn’t get much better than that, I’d rather have had some of the dialogues cut out completely, because many of them were so repetitive without adding anything relevant to neither the story nor any of the characters involved that the thought to just skip ahead crossed my mind more than once. For example, the whole back and forth between Jordan and Pilar about her refusal to tell him what she saw while reading in the palm of his hand took up two very tedious and unsatisfactory pages at one point.
Secondly, the language. Of course, this ties in with the writing style and, as already mentioned, some parts are just wonderful and a pleasure to read. Hemingway uses a pretty realistic and forward way of expression (I guess, he himself would prefer using the term ‘honest’ in this context), here and there he randomly mixes in some Spanish sentences or throws a puta madre into the conversation from time to time, which are small contributions to the setting, but they enhance the atmosphere a lot.
But speaking of setting and of mixing in some Spanish, I have to admit, that in my opinion this is also the cause for the novel’s greatest weakness. In order to give the reader a better feeling of a book written in the midst of a Spanish guerilla group, Hemingway resorts to the use of archaisms and some odd expressions which did not really work out so well, because they sometimes read like a google translate version of a real Spanish text. Also, it is quite cute and annoying at the same time, that in order for his characters not to curse, all the swearwords are replaced, for example simply by ‘obscenity’ (except they do it in Spanish, because this is obviously ok). This might be the result of censorship or some form of modesty in the 40’s (I really don’t know), but, could you imagine this fearnaught dynamiter Robert Jordan look you straight in the eye and tell you to ‘go muck yourself’? Well, neither can I.
So I guess the bottom line here is, that I really, really liked and enjoyed For Whom the Bell Tolls, I binge-read great portions of this novel (and I would do it again), but other parts (especially the repetitive dialogue parts) bore the obscenity out of me.