Readers of the blog know I am a Hemingway fan. I read The Sun Also Rises during my junior year in high school along with The Great Gatsby and Huck Finn. The Sun Also Rises was the rare book I loved upon first reading and have re-read it four or five times since high school.
Everybody Behaves Badly by Lesley M. M. Blume is the story behind The Sun Also Rises. This book was featured on One True Sentence podcast in 2020 and went into my Amazon wishlist. And there it sat until Ryan Holiday included it on his November 2023 book list. Seemed like the universe was trying to tell me something, so I picked it up… although I was still wary.
I read a similar book, The Undoing Project, which provides the backstory to the writing and authors behind Thinking Fast and Slow. Everybody Behaves Badly is a much better, more interesting read and highly recommended.
Blume tells the story of Hemingway in Paris in the 1920s, from his background as an unknown writer who schmoozed his way into the (already) famous literary scene in Paris. Here we meet so many of the people Hemingway would use as characters in The Sun Also Rises, from Robert Cohn to Lady Brett Ashley. We get enough of Hemingway’s background to understand who he was, but not an exhaustive biography.
More importantly, we get an account of Hemingway’s’ trips to Pamplona and the bullfights, especially the trip in 1924 with Harold Loeb (portrayed as Robert Cohn), Lady Duff Twysden (Lady Brett Ashley), Pat Guthrie (Mike Campbell) and Donald Stewart (Bill Gorton). The Sun Also Rises is a retelling of this trip, with the characters and events only slightly altered. One of the great revelations of Everybody Behaves Badly was how close to a straight travel story The Sun Also Rises, a beat by beat retelling of events.
This covers about 2/3 of the book. The final third describes life for Hemingway during and immediately after the publishing of The Sun Also Rises, which made him an internationally famous author (his goal). The epilogue details the lives of the characters/real friends (that word is doing a lot of work here) after the publishing. Amazing to see how much their inclusion in The Sun Also Rises affected their lives for the worse.
I tried to co-read The Sun Also Rises with Behaves… I’d read along while learning about the circumstances around the writing. A shocking thing happened, though… while I truly enjoyed Everybody Behaves Badly, The Sun Also Rises read very slow, especially to start. I’m not taking The Sun Also Rises out of my pantheon of favorite/best books… I wonder if I was just in a rush to get to the bullfights, and also to start other fiction novels stacking up on my to-read pile (an unread David Mitchell and two William Goldman books). But I couldn’t finish it… felt like Jake Barnes spent seventy pages aimlessly drinking in Paris (at the bars and restaurants Hemingway frequented, of course).
Behaves is a fun and easy read. Blume shows us where and how The Sun Also Rises events, places and characters originated. The Sun Also Rises is still one of the best novels of all time, although my journey over the last few years (reading a ton of short stories, including most of Hemingway’s) tilts me toward his short stories instead of his novels… a complete 180 as per my thoughts a few years ago.