Widely considered to be on the greatest anti-war novels ever written, A Farewell to Arms
, tells the story of American Frederic Henry and his experiences as an ambulance driver in the Italian Army during WWI. During the course of the war, he meets and falls in love with a British nurse, Catherine Barkley, and the novel gradually begins to focus on their love affair, the war itself only a backdrop to their romance.
Reading this, I didn't get the sense that the novel itself was a piece of anti-war literature. While it focused heavily on the nonsensical realities of war, it never came across as dogmatically stating that war is wrong. Rather it seemed to say that war is brutal, dirty, and nasty. Hemingway doesn't romanticize war as many other authors seem to have done in the past and still do to this day. This is what I like about Hemingway. He is honest and straightforward, making his novels very readable. On the other hand, he is one of those men who can't write a female character to save his life. Catherine is insipid, cloying, and downright annoying. Her character made it very hard to enjoy the novel. Not only did I not like her, but she seemed to drag down Frederic as well when they were together. He went from an intriguing multi-dimensional character to one who could only utter phrases about how grand she was and unable to have any thoughts or actions that did not revolve around her. While I appreciated the juxtaposition of their love affair against the backdrop of war, I felt the novel ultimately suffered from the inclusion of Catherine. I think that were the author someone who could better draft a female character, this novel could have gone from being an interesting examination of the singular tragedy of life to something truly spectacular.