Mary Rose Cook

For Whom The Bell Tolls

I saw my old friend, Max, this weekend and he recommended For Whom The Bell Tolls. I bought a copy and started it on the train home from Leeds. I have just got to a very tense scene where Robert is in the guerrillas’ cave and is asserting his authority over the disillusioned Pablo.

Hemingway writes so plainly and everything is so well grounded, literally, in the senses. He gives us a few specific details to convey a meal, or an environment. His rope-soled canvas shoes and his oily wines are impressions that rest upon our tongues and beneath our feet - at our points of contact with the world.

A few years ago, I was killing time at the airport and I read the first few pages of a Tom Clancy novel. Clancy is a writer who, presumably to maximise his output, begins sentences with very little idea of where they are going. So, he spends most of his time writing himself out of linguistic holes. He will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid repetition, referring to the spinning blades of the helicopter to avoid repeating the word rotor. In contrast, if Hemingway has said wine already, he will say it again if it helps make the sentence clearer.