Review: The Garden of Eden
By Ernest Hemingway
Another Hemingway book. This one is special though. It was published posthumously after his editor received two bags full of Hemingway’s manuscripts.
According to lore, he worked on the book for 15 years, and the published work is one-third of the actual manuscript.
The book has an intense Hemingway flavor, but two things stand out. The first one is that some parts felt older than others. In some areas of the narrative, you can taste an old, more verbose Hemingway.
On this morning there was brioche and red raspberry preserve and the eggs were boiled and there was a pat of butter that melted as they stirred them and salted them lightly and ground pepper over them in the cups.
In others, you can savor the distill Hemingway of The Old Man and The Sea.
They were stiff and built for hard wear but the washings softened them and now they were worn and softened enough so that when he looked at the girl now her breasts showed beautifully against the worn cloth.
The other thing that stands out is the feeling of inconsistency within the storyline. There are missing chunks; there are parts that run smoothly, others that are bumpy. I have but to agree with Susan Seitz’s dissertation comments.
Through a study of the manuscripts of these works, I argue that in his posthumously published fiction, Hemingway was experimenting both stylistically and thematically, and that the editing of these manuscripts has functioned to suppress these new directions. In each of these three works, Hemingway’s posthumous editors have been responsible for poor copyediting, substantial cuts of lines, scenes, and whole chapters, the addition of manuscript material that Hemingway had discarded, and transposed scenes and dialogue. Such editing has resulted in published texts which do not represent Hemingway’s intentions in these works as he left them.
The plot has some dialogs that are truly masterful. You can feel the androgyny Hemingway is playing with and how natural it becomes to the reader.
“You see,” she said. “That’s the surprise. I’m a girl. But now I’m a boy too and I can do anything and anything and anything.”
He held her close and hard and inside himself he said goodbye and then goodbye and goodbye.
Also interesting to notice how he resists naming the discordant element, the girl named Marita. She’s mentioned a couple of times during the whole book, and then she’s relegated to The Girl appellative. Thus giving the feeling of being an unfamiliar face or better of, a not-wanted-to-be-known character, a stranger. He also uses the resource with both David and Catherine at several points.
“When I drink I want to say things I should never say,” the girl said. “Then don’t say them.” “Then what’s the use of drinking?” “It isn’t these. You’ve only had one.”
The delirium Catherine goes through, and the final spiralling is also beautiful. In a way, it draws some parallels with Anna Karenina’s descent into madness. While for different reasons, they’re both interesting narratives to behold and display various aspects on how to describe madness.
“Except for the fact that I feel I’ve probably done a great wrong to you that I must try to set right I feel very well,” Catherine said.
Some passages, in true Hemingway fashion, show clear autobiographical aspects. As someone that likes writing, reading the struggles and demons of a successful writer is magical.
Maybe she knows what she’s doing. Maybe she knows how it can turn out. Maybe she does know. You don’t. So you worked and now you worry. You’d better write another story. Write the hardest one there is to write that you know. Go ahead and do that. You have to last yourself if you’re to be any good to her. What good have you been to her? Plenty, he said. No, not plenty. Plenty means enough. Go ahead and start the new one tomorrow. The hell with tomorrow. What a way to be. Tomorrow. Go in and start it now.
Here is another golden nugget for any aspiring writer. Something Hemingway repeated often enough to anyone that cares to listen. Don’t push yourself beyond a certain point, or you’ll deplete your imagination.
David had finished writing and he was empty and hollow-feeling from having driven himself long past the point where he should have stopped.
One of the most intriguing things beyond the boy-girl-boy love triangle is the story David keeps writing. While the triangle keeps developing, Hemingway pulls us deeper and deeper into David’s Elephant story. At one point you are so engaged on the story-within-the-story, that you forget what Garden of Eden is about. It’s a feeling of story-matryoshka that’s very hard to create effectively.
It was an enjoyable read, with many of the typical Hemingway traits, but also many innovative styles. You can sense he was experimenting beyond his usual. Sadly, the book wasn’t finished and the editor, probably, butchered the most novel aspects of it.
“People that can’t blush are worthless.”