A sensational bestseller when it appeared in 1986, The Garden of Eden is the last uncompleted novel of Ernest Hemingway, which he worked on intermittently from 1946 until his death in 1961. Set on the Côte d’Azur in the 1920s, it is the story of a young American writer, David Bourne, his glamorous wife, Catherine, and the dangerous, erotic game they play when they fall in love with the same woman.
I have read reviews of this book that covered the whole range from “a dreadfully boring story without any plot” to “literary porn”. It is neither.
The plot is not quite what you would expect from reading the short blurb. David is far from falling in love with the same woman as Catherine, but rather he is pushed into her arms by his absolute nutcase of a wife.
Hemingway has a knack of creating women who are manipulative and destructive, he must have disliked us a great deal. I hated Catherine from chapter one and felt sorry for David from the start. The poor guy had no idea what he had gotten himself into when he married her three weeks ago. At first I thought that she had successfully hidden her insanity and gender-bending tendencies, until someone, whom I read the book with, pointed out to me that she was obviously pushed into that behaviour by an incident happening after their marriage. That made sense, even though I would have never connected those two things myself.
After realizing that I felt not quite as unforgiving towards her, but still, her behaviour was so creepy that I just couldn’t figure out why David would not only accept it, but actually played along.
The way Marita was added as third person to the triangle was so matter of fact, she turned up, was dragged into the situation by Catherine and, again, David lets her do as she pleases. I found that weird, but then, who can blame him for wanting an additional companion as moral support against his crazy wife. That eventually he’d fall in love with Marita was only natural.
The parallel story that was told by David in his book about the elephant hunt in Africa was very fascinating. I could very much feel what David felt when the elephant was killed. Guilt, regret and the resolve never to confide anything again. I was drawn into it even though before I could not have thought of a less interesting topic than an African elephant hunt.
It was also very interesting to read about the problems of writers when no inspiration comes to them. And about the feelings of the writer when his work gets lost. Again this was done so beautifully, with David’s feelings so clear, I could have killed Catherine myself.
I was glad to see the book end on a positive note though. I don’t think it could have had a better ending. Uplifting and satisfying, especially given the absolutely disturbing atmosphere throughout the whole story.
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