I read A Moveable Feast in the most ideal of settings — moving between a blue beach chair on a white sandy beach and one that rested inches away from a private pool. The pages of my copy are curled; fingerprinted by strawberry daiquiris and my wrinkled fingers, the result of bobbing happily in the water.
A Moveable Feast is the sort of book you have to read in an ideal setting, otherwise Hemingway’s musings of Paris will seem somehow unfair.
“There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it. But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.”
A Moveable Feast is perhaps the most quotable book I’ve ever read, and I couldn’t help but jot down paragraph after paragraph — in Word documents, in notebooks, in the margins of my dayplanner — after returning from Punta Cana. These were not just quotations I liked; they were quotations that made me ache. They were quotations I could taste and feel and felt the need to read aloud over and over again.
“We would be together and have our books and at night be warm in bed together with the windows open and the stars bright.”
A Moveable Feast is Hemingway’s memoir about being poor and young and happy and in love with his first wife, Hadley, in Paris in the 1920s. Though ultimately ill fated, the relationship between Hemingway and Hadley is tender. I empathized with the pair as they lived in an apartment that often felt too small and too cold, but had everything they needed. Together, they indulged in food and drink, extravagances supported by Hemingway’s fledgling writing career.
“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”
It isn’t easy writing a coherent review of A Moveable Feast because it isn’t a book about just one thing. It’s about many things. A Moveable Feast is about blind, young love that is fleeting and susceptible to temptation. It’s about sacrificing food and space and all those things that need sacrificing when you’re a young writer trying to get by on infrequent freelance cheques. It’s about being in Paris in a time when Paris was brimming with writers and intellectuals and oddball characters that could at any one moment find one another at a sidewalk café. It’s about how we romanticize youth, even when youth is impoverished and dirty and flawed.
“You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen.”
I’ve read the last three pages of A Moveable Feast at least five times. They halted me. I knew Hadley and Ernest’s relationship was ill fated, and I knew their time in Paris would come to an end, yet it halted me. The ending, but really all of A Moveable Feast, is so painfully nostalgic and laced with pause and regret, that you can’t help but adore Hemingway despite all his flaws.
I can’t say exactly why it took me so long to read A Moveable Feast, but I adored every perfectly crafted, memorable and true sentence.
“‘All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.' So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there.’”