Before I leave for Paris next month, I’ve been devouring books on the city in the hopes of putting myself in the mood and get even more excited about French ways. I did One Souffle At A Time, which was a cute and long winded exploration of French cooking. There was Five Nights In Paris, which I had hoped would be a fun exploration and backhanded guide to the city but ended up being a bizarre and boring rambling on about walking Paris at night. Now? A classic: Ernest Hemingway’s Parisian journal, A Moveable Feast.
First, I have to out myself: I am fairly obsessed with the hot air balloon that is Ernest Hemingway. I understand he is a ridiculous literary figure and a he-man woman hater—but I love him. I love his writing style. I love his indulgence. I love his minimalism. Was he a good person? Fuck no. But I’m not judging his writing on personal character: it’s about good writing. He is a good writer.
Unfortunately, A Moveable Feast is no The Sun Also Rises or Old Man And The Sea. This is an afterthought of stories, some great and some terrible. It’s an ongoing collection of thoughts that he scribbled in old age in nostalgia for the Lost Generation’s old hangouts. It is tied together by name dropping and hyper-masculinity and, instead of presenting Paris as a lover to constantly comment on (i.e., “a moveable feast”), you instead have to pick through the dramas of pre-war and post-war buffoons indulging themselves.
That can be charming though as the book is a classic writer gossip column celebrated as literary iconography. You get to hear about Gertrude Stein and her lover(s), how she collected art, and her advice on being a writer (and how she had Hemingway whipped). There are figures like Ford Maddox Ford and Ezra Pound who pop in and out simply to chew some scenery and exeunt. Hemingway’s wife plays as a smothered conscience that, instead of providing wisdom, gives Hemingway something to smile and nod at. All of this is done through exhausted writing. It’s all an afterthought, like looking through someone’s old Facebook updates about other people.
There is one large redeeming value: F. Scott Fitzgerald. I also love Fitzgerald in a very High School Literati way but, damn, the sections on him and Zelda are rich fan fictions of lushes. It’s great! You find that Fitzgerald is a co-dependent mess who is a baby to party with while Zelda is a controlling, manipulative monster insistent upon ruining Fitzgerald. It’s viscous. The two best takeaways are a long chapter (Maybe even the longest?) about Hemingway and Fitzgerald traveling to a remote town in France to retrieve a car, where lots of “Oh, rich people!” hijinks ensue, and a brief story about Fitzgerald confiding in Hemingway that he has a small penis. Yes! He has a small penis and is insecure about it. That was the obvious highlight of the book.
As a Parisian warmup, A Moveable Feast was a stale amuse bouche, neither that exciting nor that tasty. Reading Hemingway is always a joy but, damn, he made this one difficult. It definitely is not his best work and it certainly didn’t sell Paris to me. I exited the book wishing a Gossip Girl type television show would be made about all the Lost Generation jackasses.