“The Snows of Kilimanjaro”

To call Ernest Heminway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” a collection of short stories is a mis-labelling. Indeed, it could be argued that very few of the eighteen tales within the book qualify as a ‘short story’. Many are very short – almost vignettes – and a number, which all centre around the same character – ‘Nick’ – read as if they were chapters or parts of chapters plucked from a novel.

More than that, at the beginning of each story – and more extensively in the title story itself – there is a section (usually a single paragraph) which is very clearly about something else; for example, a ‘Nick’ story, set in the pine forests of America, which opens with an incident in a Spanish bullring. Again, it is as if the ‘stories’ are quite unashamedly something else, a kind of composite or amalgam of pieces often unrelated.

Does this matter? Does it throw the reader? At first, yes; but then I think you come to accept it. Those opening paragraphs act almost as intervals between the main features – no matter how short those features might be. There is some tremendous story-telling in here. I liked ‘My Old Man’ (a whole story!) and the two parts of ‘Big Two-hearted River’ with it’s stunning depiction of walking, camping, and trout fishing.

Where I struggled stylistically was with Hemingway’s use of repetition; whole phrases duplicated, crowded in on each other. Sometimes the emphasis works well, but at others it’s almost as if he had found a better place in a paragraph to use the phrase and simply forgot to delete the original occurrence.