Author: Michael Palin | Publisher: Orion Books Ltd
I’ve always loved Michael Palin’s style. I was an avid fan of his travel documentaries and his books have the same good pacing, sense of humour, and wonderfully vivid sense of place. I must confess, though, I’ve not read a single book by Hemingway. Is that too shameful? He’s just always struck me as the “huntin’, fishin’, shootin’, drinkin’” man’s man; and that’s never really appealed. And I can’t say that Michael Palin’s depiction of him, through the world he inhabited, really changed my mind. If anything, I came away more convinced than ever that the man was an a**.
I loved the descriptions of place and the uniquely personal portraits of the people Michael Palin met on his Hemingway Adventure. You get such a wonderful feel for the landscape and sense of place through his writing. In many ways, while it’s clearly written from diary notes during filming, it’s also quite poetical. I also loved the little insights into filming incidents, the film crew, life as a travel journalist, and so forth. And his books are funny, they don’t shy away from the absurd or the embarrassing, or the awful, which is so wonderfully human. I’ve yet to pick up any of Palin’s travel books and not find myself hooked from start to finish.
I skimmed a little through the descriptions of hunting and bull fighting. However, it was carefully edited so as not to be too unpalatable for those of us not keen on witnessing the brutal death of small (or large) furry things, without completely glossing over the reality. That being said, I found those chapters a little hard going. They didn’t endear Hemingway to me. The man seems never to have met a creature he didn’t immediately want to shoot, and I found the quotes about his respect for the animal laughable. I’ve no doubt Hemingway believed the sentiments, but, like his habitual inability to keep it in his pants, it smacked of a complete lack of self-awareness. I’ve always thought that self-awareness was essential in a writer, but I suppose Hemingway proves the lie in that. Let’s just say, I was unimpressed with the man. I won’t be picking up any of his books any time soon. I don’t think Hemingway and I will get along.
As the book is written from Palin’s diaries, so if you’re looking to follow the trail of Hemingway’s life story through the places he lives, it is out of order. It’s written as the story of Palin’s journey, rather than Hemingway’s; which was both really interesting, and quite frustrating for someone who knew very little about Hemingway going in. I found myself a little confused from time to time, trying to follow the chronology of events from Hemingway’s life. However, from a narrative perspective, it works wonderfully; a story within a story.
The pictures are a mixture of old snaps of Hemingway (who was surprisingly handsome – it’s nice when someone has a redeeming feature) and photographs or stills from the filming of the documentary. They were a nice juxtaposition of old and new, Palin and Hemingway. They also felt carefully curated to illustrate areas that would otherwise be lacking in the text; such as giving a better sense of his family’s fishing cabin, and so on.
I thoroughly enjoyed Hemingway Adventure, and would definitely recommend it to anyone else who enjoys travel writing. If you’re looking for a biography of Hemingway, this book won’t really help you; though it did provide me with some interesting glimpses into the man, and I definitely feel better educated than when I picked it up. But if you’re already familiar with Hemingway’s life, if you’re a fan, I’ve no doubt you would find a great deal to appreciate in Palin’s Hemingway Adventure.
4 out of 5 Archimedes