This is a Review: The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway (+ A New Beginning with Audio Books)

September 04, 2015

I told y'all on Wednesday that I'm eating every word about my supposed aversion to audio books. I honestly thought I wouldn't be into them, but it turns out that all it took to get me going was to be completely incapable of picking up a book. It didn't matter that I was enjoying the two reads I was in the middle of last week; every time I picked them up, I'd find an excuse to put them down, and eventually I stopped trying altogether. Days passed without a single turned page, and I was developing a distinctly book-shaped hole in my soul.

Enter The Old Man and the Sea, narrated by Donald Sutherland. I have Amanda to thank for this gem; she recommended it as one of her favorites on that so-recently-inapplicable post. After activating my free Audible trial, I settled on the itty-bitty Hemingway as a way to use up my first credit. The whole story clocks in at just under two-and-a-half hours. I figured that, if audio did not turn out to be for me, I wouldn't have to suffer through much of it to finish off the story. (Spoiler alert: this was not the case.)

Hemingway tells the story of the old Cuban fisherman Santiago. Having come up empty for the last three months, most believe his luck on the water has run out, but he has a feeling that change is coming. That change arrives in the form of the most massive fish anyone in Havana has ever seen. The bulk of the story revolves around Santiago being towed along by this mega-fish in his skiff, all the while reflecting on a life spent at sea, his failing body, and his relationship with "the boy" whom he's watched grow from a five-year-old, frightened by jumping fish, to a compassionate young man.

The most punch-you-in-the-face obvious themes here are aging, the inevitability of death and the legacy one leaves behind after dying. Despite there not being a lot of mystery to the symbolism (i.e., a strong, beautiful fish being slowly chewed up by sharks over time), it works so well when paired with Hemingway's prose, spare and straightforward as ever. Santiago knows his time is coming—and soon—but he isn't going without a fight, even if that fight consists of keeping on just as he always has. From what I've read before (A Farewell to Arms, ugh), I'm not a huge fan of Hemingway, but I'll make an exception for this story and for the quiet mettle of his fisherman.

As for the audio, Dave of Canton, MI put it best in his review: Donald Sutherland is Santiago. His calm, gravelly voice captured the world-weary vigor of the old man perfectly. Sutherland's tone didn't change for the other characters, but, considering the novel is 90% Santiago, this didn't detract much.

All in all, I'm glad to have been proven wrong about audio books, because they served as a thoroughly enjoyable way to scratch yet another book off Ye Olde Classics Club list.

Let's talk about the joys of aging and super-huge fish! Alternatively, let's talk about the first audio book you remember REALLY enjoying.

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