Final Verdict: 4.0 out of 4.0
4 – Plot/Story is interesting/believable and impactful (socially, academically, etc.)
It is no surprise that it took Hemingway fifteen years to write The Garden of Eden; nor is it surprising that the book was not published until twenty-five years after he died. This story is like no other Hemingway work. It is dark and dangerously bold. Hemingway described this book’s theme as “the happiness of the Garden that a man must lose.” It is about the loss of innocence and a shedding of naivety – the realization that the world is much more complicated and uncontrollable than one imagined. At the center of the book are four relationships: one between David and Catherine, newlywed Americans honeymooning in Europe; one between Catherine and Marita, a young woman she discovers and begins a romantic relationship with; one between David and Marita, whose own relationship is encouraged by Catherine; and the final one, a ménage-a-tois between the three – simultaneously necessary and destructive.
4 – Characters extraordinarily developed.
Catherine and David are two of the most compelling characters from Jazz Age literature. They are, by far, the most rounded and interesting of Hemingway’s works, particularly Catherine. Hemingway is often criticized for his (mis)treatment of women in literature (specifically the absence of any primary females in his literature). Catherine, and even Marita, should push Hemingway miles away from this argument. Catherine is tragically beautiful – she is written with a deeply-felt honesty that one can imagine was truly painful for Hemingway to put in print. The evolution of her character and devolution of her sanity were impossible to look away from, even when the character turned petty or when the subject matter became bizarre. Hemingway’s development of Catherine and her development throughout made it clear that she was not strange just to be strange and, similarly, that the husband David was not just passive or acquiescent, but truly loving and sadly lost. The minor characters, such as David’s father who is present only through David’s stories, and the hotel keeper, are well-written and important to the plot, as contrast characters and biographical presences.
4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.
Typically, I am appreciative of but never over-the-moon about Hemingway’s prose. Anyone familiar with Hemingway knows what we mean when we say “Hemingway-esque.” Simple, plain, mild – made up of short sentences, sparse dialogue, and little creative expression. Sometimes (usually) this serves the purposes of the stories quite well. What is different about The Garden of Eden, is that Hemingway keeps his signature style, but adds two things: one, a character (David) who is a writer and who, as a sort of Hemingway projection, explains why he writes the way he does; and two, adds a certain level of emotion to the same sparse style: drama, disappointment, fear, passion, eroticism. Hemingway typically leaves the emotional side of his stories sub-service, to be inferred. The Garden of Eden is similar in that respect, but not exactly the same – it breaks the mold and adds an interesting dynamic to the writing style of one who is already considered to be a master craftsman – further supporting the fact that Hemingway was groundbreaking in his prose.
Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.
Had it not been for the novel’s style and prose, which is clearly Hemingway, it would have been difficult to believe that he had written this book. There is a great deal of sentimentalism and raw emotion, which is typically sparse in Hemingway’s novels. Much of this book reminded me more of Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night than anything else. It is strikingly modern in comparison to his other works, and it tackles serious exploration of gender roles and “taboo” sexuality, including reversed masculinity/femininity and bisexuality. The primary relationship in the book is a ménage-a-trois, the presence of which is rather sparse in literature to date, and the major conflict is Catherine’s mental degradation and psychosis – a psychological instability which becomes more intrusive and violent as the story progresses. All of this, coupled with the meta-fictional aspects, wherein Hemingway talks about his own writing process through his own story’s writer, David (who finds himself evaluating his own process), manages to create a work which is highly dangerous and incredibly ahead of its time.
Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: High School +
Interest: Sexuality, Gender Roles, Expatriate American Literature, Psychology, Open Relationships, The Writing Process, Identity & Co-Dependence
“Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.”
“When you start to live outside yourself, it’s all dangerous.”
“Everybody has strange things that mean things to them.”