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Continuing my discovery of Hemingway, I started A Farewell to Arms with no knowledge of the content at all. I soon realised that it was about the Italian front in the first world war where Hemingway had served as a medic, which I was aware of from Haldeman's "The Hemingway Hoax", but then became rather delighted when I realised that I vaguely know the area in question, now the eastern part of Slovenia. (I once stumped a leading French intellectual over dinner in Ljubljana by asking him which nineteenth-century French ruler is buried in Slovenia. The answer is Charles X.)

It is, of course, a great, gritty, utterly unheroic depiction of war, with deaths, horrible injuries, and what some have called emergency sex. The Frederick Henry's struggle then shifts to his relationship with Catherine Barkley. You know that it is doomed from the start, because it's that kind of book, but I was still startled by the bleak suddenness of the ending. It's a sparse, clear picture of people thrown together by conflict, and how lives end in that situation, as ever told in Hemingway's crystal prose.

I am becoming a Hemingway addict, something I never quite expected.

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