A Moveable Feast is a set of memoirs by American author Ernest Hemingway about his early years in Paris.
It’s a slim volume, I read it in just a couple of days and it’s one of those un-put-down-able books that has to be read more than once to fully appreciate all of the nuances and little details.
Hemingway has a wonderful style, he’s able to convey what he hears and sees to give the reader a real flavour, a feel of the place he is writing about – in this case, Paris in the 1920s. He doesn’t write great swathes of descriptions, in fact his depictions are quite sparse but so well-written that you know exactly what he means and don’t need huge tomes to convey an image.
He was born into a wealthy family and lived a charmed life. Reading the book you’d think he was a poverty-stricken young writer, worried about where his next meal will come from. In real life he had no such money problems but it certainly adds something to the story when you’re reading it.
I found him a little bit pompous, very sure of himself and his skills and utterly delicious to read.
His circle of friends was largely the great and the good of the day from America. F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby) was a personal friend; Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce – writers, artists, patrons of the arts, the glitzy, glamorous grandees of the day who flocked to the dazzling French capital looking for inspiration, for excitement and for pleasure.
Hemingway spills the beans on who said what, what they were like and whether he liked them or not. He can be quite waspish, hitting hard with his observations, personal comments litter the book so that you feel as if he’s sharing his innermost thoughts with the reader. Dotted throughout are references to places that Hemingway visited in Paris, addresses of cafés, bars, and hotels. He writes how he would walk up Rue Mouffetard, “that wonderful narrow crowded market street” – in those few words he conjures up an instantly recognisable image – as relevant today as it was almost a century ago.
He talks of visiting Shakespeare & Co., a book shop and library owned by Sylvia Beach. When he professes that he cannot afford to pay the library fees, Beach gave him a card and told him he could pay when he could afford it. The shop has moved from the location when Hemingway visited but it is still there and now an iconic tourist destination.
In fact many of the places that Hemingway haunted and wrote about have become must-see destinations for tourists so influential has the book been. The Hemingway bar at the Ritz Hotel where the writer wrote about the hotel’s bar manager, Le Dôme restaurant in Montparnasse known as “the Anglo-American café” so popular was it with expats in those days. The route of Hemingway’s Paris is followed to this day by his fans and admirers seeking to find the Paris that Hemmingway prowled round – and often succeeding.
A Moveable Feast actually wasn’t published until three years after Hemmingway died and was edited by his fourth wife after Hemingway wrote it up from notes and manuscripts decades after his 1920s visit. His observations of people and events are frank, personal and completely fascinating to read and his use of words is dazzling.