Book Review: Across the River and into the Trees by Ernest Hemingway

April 7th, 2019

Details from Audible:

Across the River and Into the Trees

Narrated by: Boyd Gaines
Length: 6 hrs and 59 mins
 3.7 out of 5 stars (125 ratings)

Publisher's Summary

Set in Venice at the close of World War II, Across the River and into the Trees is the bittersweet story of a middle-aged American colonel, scarred by war and in failing health, who finds love with a young Italian countess at the very moment when his life is becoming a physical hardship to him.

It is a love so overpowering and spontaneous that it revitalizes the man's spirit and encourages him to dream of a future, even though he knows that there can be no hope for long. Spanning a matter of hours, Across the River and into the Trees is tender and moving, yet tragic in the inexorable shadow of what must come.

©1950 Ernest Hemingway, 1978 Mary Hemingway. All rights reserved (P)2006 Simon and Schuster Inc. All rights reserved.

Initial Thoughts:

Still getting through my Audible backlog (be a while yet, there are some benefits to being a slow listener/reader) and decided on another Hemingway. I love Hem, always will so I gave it a listen.

Main Points:

No one writes like Hem anymore. He has a beauty with words that is lost to the ages. That said he also has the tendency to slow his writing down with a lot of description. Usually, I don't mind it but in this case, I've got to say the book really bogs down.

This is the kind of book you'd study in a university course and while I did plenty of that, I'm not getting into a long rant on it here (just a little one!). Hem was in 3 wars, both as a journalist and a solider (in truth he mixed the two together and did some amazing stuff in WWII). Hearing his thoughts on war, fighting, loss, writers and specific generals were interesting. His description of a duck shoot, the countryside in Venice (and Italy) and his girlfriend are all amazing. He can write dialogue in a very interesting way (though the way the main characters talk is looney, I can't imagine two people ever talked like that) and gives vivid descriptions of fight scenes (both in a way and a street brawl).

This book also gives you insight into the way Hem felt about himself, how he (possibly) always wanted to be with a young woman and maybe even some of his strange sexual fantasies. It also has one of the strangest sex scenes I've read in a book (that may even include anal sex) through the description is so vague it's hard to tell. Still, if you have a good imagination it is arousing (and certainly not for kids.)

That's all the positive, the biggest negative here is that very little happens in this book. Like most Hem books it doesn't end well but basically, the whole story is a retired colonel (50) goes to spend time with his much younger (19) girlfriend. They eat, drink and talk a lot, have sex and then he goes on a fishing trip without her and then his driver starts to take him away.

Final Thoughts:

While it's not a long book (7 hours to listen to) it felt like a lot longer to me. You see the ending coming from a long ways off but that's often the case with Hem. To be honest it's probably the worst book I read by him. I can only give it 6 out of 10 and would only recommend to the most die-hard Hemingway fans like me. Please don't let your kids read/listen to this, ages 16+ for violence, sex and mature themes. I will say the narration was excellent and probably makes the audio book better than print.