Who would have suspected Hemingway's resources as a food writer? Not me, at any rate. The Garden of Eden is studded with provincial delicacies Elizabeth David would be proud of ('jamon serrano, a smoky, hard-cured ham from pigs that fed on acorns') and dramatic narratives of eating and drinking that might please M.F.K. Fisher. The book is a sort of domestic novel, a portrait of amour fou and its aftermath in which Hemingway's attention turns in directions many of which are as unexpected as the excursions into gastronomy, and which provide consistently interesting, if sometimes strained reading. What makes Hemingway good is the quality of thinking behind his simplicities of action and dialogue; what makes him bad is where the thinking always seems to stop. Since this is the last novel we'll have from him, it would be nice to report that he'd breached the barriers of his sexual politics. That isn't true; probably it could not be true. The Garden of Eden can be read as a narrow sexual fable of the most embarrassing kind, but it has the advantage of arriving at what is most obnoxious in Hemingway, not taking it as a point of departure.
LRB 5 February 1987 | PDF Download