For Whom the Bell Tolls was the last of Hemingway's major novels I'd wanted to read: and over the past few weeks, I've immersed myself in this story of the Spanish Civil War.
Like the other key Hemingway novels, style is paramount, and there's no question that Hemingway has done away with the artifice. For Whom the Bell Tolls is a novel without much scaffolding: this is not a book littered with complex adjectives; instead, it's one built on a certain accessibility: the simplicity of Hemingway's characterizations -- of war, of love, of Spanish -- open them to an added layer of emotion. There is no mistaking what is happening here.
In many ways, though, I did not find For Whom the Bells Tolls to be as effective as The Sun Also Rises: the latter, in my estimation, is a more complete novel: the sense of time, character, and loss more effectively rendered. Which is not say that For Whom the Bell Tolls is without feeling: indeed, the final section of the novel -- full of action and tragedy -- evokes a clear sense of sorrow. But Sun does this without direct recourse to violence: it is the memory of this theme, and its impact, which guides Sun and which renders it such a success.
All of that said, For Whom the Bells Tolls presents a candid, if at times predictable, account of Spain and its descent into fascism. This is a novel guided by action: by the preparation, the anticipation, and the inevitable loss. Not all of Hemingway's novels move in this way, and it's clear that not all of his literary techniques fully suited this approach. But in the end, Robert Jordan becomes a trusted guide: a man in search of honor and truth, who is fated, from the start, to sacrifice.