This is Hemingway’s last book and the one for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. It is short but beautiful, like a perfectly crafted sonnet. It tells the story, in spare, sleek prose, of an old man, the boy who admires him and the huge fish the old man catches. It is set in Cuba.
Much is unsaid but implied: the old man’s fiery temperament and appetitite for life when younger, the boy’s yearning for stability and search for wisdom, the fragility of Cuban culture when sitting so close to the US.
When the sharks – cold blooded, amoral agents of an implacable natural order – cheat the old man of his prize as he tries to bring it to the harbour, it is heartbreaking. But the old man himself is part of that order, too, and proudly so. The giant fish he catches is his brother, he tells himself and the sea (and us), as he tries desperately to land it.
There is fine appreciation of the process of ageing, too, in Hemingway’s description of how the old man’s dreams have changed over the years, resting with a few evocative, comforting unrealities that, despite everything, leave him at peace with the world.
A lovely book, which I recommend to everyone with an hour or two to spare and an interest in the beauty and wonder of writing and of stories. Which could be shortened, I suppose, to just ‘everyone’, as who does not have such an interest?