Wednesday, 23 January 2013


Wednesday 23rd Jan. 2013

Ernest Hemingway and Rich Tea Biscuits
 With the deadline for my next English Lit. degree assignment extended to next Monday on request, I was all ready to settle down and break the back of it today. Then Charlie was sick. Another day off school. Disney Channel on the telly - some shit called ANT FARM - and constant requests from the little lad to commandeer the computer and play FOOTBALL MANAGER 2013. Tomorrow is written off too, what with the school rules about 48hrs off for sickness, and such. Bugger, eh. Still, must push on.
Managed to handwrite another thousand words or so of the follow up to ABIDE WITH ME yesterday, and have tentatively got a working title. Much of the inner world of John is dominated by his inability to cope with the death of his dad. His dad loved Elvis, so I've been try to come up with a title linked to an Elvis song. Flicking through YouTube yesterday, I stumbled upon AMERICAN TRILOGY. Not only one of the greatest songs ever, but there's a line in it the directly relates to John. So, I listened over and over, and a couple of words kept jumping out. A couple of words that define John's demeanour in ABIDE WITH ME, and define his challenge in the follow up:


That's the working title, anyway. Any thoughts from readers who have read ABIDE WITH ME would be much appreciated :)

In my reading world, I've decided to try and review every book I read this year. To this end, here is a review of Ernest Hemingway's ACROSS THE RIVER AND INTO THE TREES :

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.

ACROSS THE RIVER AND INTO THE TREES  was Hemingway's sixth novel, and the penultimate one published in his lifetime. Receiving a roundly negative reception on publication, and indeed, pretty much since, it is not the best known of Hemingway's work. 

I, however, love it. 

Here's the first paragraph:

'They started two hours before daylight, and at first, it was not necessary to break the ice across the canal as other boats had gone on ahead. In each boat, in the darkness, so you could not see, but only hear him, the poler stood on the stern, with his long oar. The shooter sat on a shooting stool fastened to the top of a box that contained his lunch and shells, and the shooters two, or more, guns were propped against the load of wooden decoys. Somewhere, in each boat, there was a sack with one or two live mallard hens, or a hen and a drake, and in each boat there was a dog who shifted and shivered uneasily at the sound of the wings of the ducks that passed overhead in the darkness.'

ACROSS THE RIVER AND INTO THE TREES is a love story, Hemingway style. A battered old Colonel, dying from heart disease, and a nineteen year old Venetian Countess.The story is written in Hemingway's trademark style - sparse dialogue, with much left unspoken, and deceptively simple, yet labyrinthine, sentences. The book begins with the main character - fifty year old Colonel Richard Cantwell - duck hunting on a cold winter morning in Trieste. I mention the Colonel's age here as mortality and the recapturing of youth are the main themes of the book. 

After the duck hunting scene, pretty much the entire rest of the book involves Colonel Cantwell relating the details of a weekend he spent with the nineteen Italian Countess, Renata. If the age gap were not uncomfortable enough for some, it is exacerbated by Cantwell constantly referring to Renata as 'daughter'. 

It's an odd old thing. 

Indeed, if you are not used to it, the directness of Hemingway's dialogue can come across as stilted and very strange. This stilted language, however, has a rhythm and a cadence that covers a multitude of inner worlds - each character communicating only what they feel safe to put words to.

Here is an example of the dialogue:

'I always use the wrong words,' the girl said. 'Please just love me. I wish it was me who could love you.'
'You do.'
'Yes, I do,' she said. 'With all my heart.'
They were going with the wind now and they were both tired.
'Do you think-'
'I don't think,' the girl said.
'Well try and think.'
'I will.'
'Drink a glass of this.'
'Why not? It's very good.'
It was. There was still ice in the bucket and the wine was cold and clear.
'Can I stay at the Gritti?'
'Why not?'
'It wouldn't be right. For them. Nor you. The hell with me.'
'Then I suppose I should go home.'
'Yes,' the Colonel said. That is the logical supposition.'

ACROSS THE RIVER AND INTO THE TREES may not be the best known, or most accessible of Hemingway's work, but if you want a lesson in the unsaid, a picture of Venice, or a grapple with mortality, it's a cracker.

Available in the UK here and the US here

BISCUITS. Mmm . . .

Another of my new year's wotsits was to give up biscuits. And I'm sort of doing okay. But I want to know, can Rich Tea Biscuits really be considered biscuits?

I mean, they are so plain and so, sort of, unproper biscuity, I don't think they can be considered in the same category of disciplinary sin as say, hobnobs or chocolate chewy digestives, can they? I'm only saying this because I've sort of had a couple. I don't feel bad about it. The resolution stands strong.

Yours in biscuit delusion,


Have a great day, all :)

Currently reading:

Days without coffee: 23
Days without chocolate: 23
Days without biscuits: 23 . . . sort of . . .
AWM2 wordcount: 25,506


  1. Haven’t read that one. I have mixed views on Hemingway. I like his style but sometimes his macho bravado gets a bit much. This one sounds like it could be sensitive and interesting. That can be the case with the lesser known works. I’d highly recommend A Farewell To Arms as well, while I think For Whom The Bell Tolls is one of the most overrated novels I’ve read.

    Rich Teas? Never a biscuit.

  2. It's definitely one of his more sensitive ones, Steve. I've probably read it about three or four times. I agree with you about both For Whom the Bell Tolls and A Farewell to Arms. Love The Sun Also Rises, plus his short stories, I reckon, are pretty fantastic.

    Glad to have you on board with the Rich Tea thing :)

    And what do you reckon of LOOK AWAY? Do you reckon it works?