Book Review: 'A Moveable Feast'

Meet great literary figures in this novel-cum-memoir

A Moveable Feast
A Moveable Feast. Simon & Schuster

A story of a young Hemingway who is impoverished and living in Paris, A Moveable Feast is a novel-cum-memoir of the writer. The book is also a tribute to the numerous characters he meets.

Hemingway projects himself to us as a young man. He examines his younger self and his foibles, but we also get a sense of nostalgia for the struggle and hardship that characterized his introduction into a writer's life in literature.

The book is often hilariously funny, as well as incredibly touching. The novel is a tour of many of the great figures in modern literary history, and a remarkable evocation of their bohemian lifestyle.

Overview 

A Moveable Feast is more a series of anecdotes than any attempt at a coherent narrative. It moves from subject to subject, creating miniature portraits and taking in the atmosphere of Paris at the time. Rather than concentrating on himself, Hemingway prefers to point his fiction outwards, dissecting early friends and acquaintances with breath-taking detail (and, on occasions, with something approaching contempt).

The figures upon which he alights include Ford Maddox Ford, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein. Stein, in particular, looms large in the book as a grand dame of letters—a great mentor to Hemingway, a distinguished innovator in literature, and just a little bit batty.

She enjoys the power she projected over people. Hemingway sees her as a self-serving, self-satisfied crone, but he still makes her seem somehow likable.

There is also a series of interesting anecdotes regarding the young F. Scott Fitzgerald and his troubled relationship with his wife. In one anecdote, Hemingway and Fitzgerald go on a road trip.

On a particularly lonely evening, they go to a restaurant, where Fitzgerald confides in his friend. Fitzgerald's wife is jealous (and, actually severely mentally ill). She picks away at his confidence so much so that he is depressed. Fitzgerald asks Hemingway to reassure him.

Thoughts

The book is brilliant for literary gossip, but A Moveable Feast is also an extended meditation on Hemingway's transition to becoming a great writer. He also discusses how he believes writing should be performed. He puts great store in subconscious processes. He sets aside time to work on his stories, does his best not to think about them at other times, and aims at writing truthfully.

Hemingway's modus operandi in literature—his stark, unadorned sentences, his simple structure, his close observation of the ways of the world—are boiled down to one central maxim in this book: do your best to write what is true. Hemingway suggests that if that's the only thing one can do when writing, then you will be well on your way to writing something that is good.

And that is probably the key to the success of A Moveable Feast. I think there is no author that makes you want to write more than Hemingway; every sentence he writes seem to suggest a joy and delight in his craft.

In his memoirs, however, he creates a shell around that feeling. He presents a life that, despite its hardships (in the early part of his career he often felt hunger pangs because he wasn't eating enough), is undeniably attractive and alluring.

Wandering around the streets of Paris, sitting in cafés with a notebook and a pencil, and attempting to fix the world with words are the meat and bones of this engrossing self-portrait. Witty, brilliant, at times incredibly touching, A Moveable Feast is the product of a great master looking back through the mists of time and desperately wishing for a youth that was long past.