This is considered one of the 100 greatest novels of all time, yet I missed it in my years of book lust. I once tried to read it last year, but got bogged down and gave up. This time I dug in and tried to focus. My impetus was reading another blog that asked 'what book setting would you love to live in?' and this book was the overwhelming favorite.
Keyword: alcohol. Lots and lots of alcohol. Wine, beer, pernod, absinthe, martinis, more wine. These people drank ALL the time, from noon till midnight. Copious amounts of everything. It made me wonder if a bottle of wine was smaller in the 1920's than now, simply because I can't imagine two people putting away four bottles of wine at lunch and still being able to stand.
The story is of the 'lost generation' of expatriots living in Paris in the 20's, and several of them were WWI vets. There seemed to be no purpose to their life other than to eat, drink, and be merry. Money didn't seem to be a factor, these people were living large and leisurely. I could see why some thought Hemingway was anti-Semitic; his description of one character, Robert Cohn, implied a personal prejudice by Hemingway. But perhaps that was more indicative of that time period? Not sure.
Anyway, Jacob Barnes has a war injury that makes him unable to consummate his feelings toward Lady Brett Ashley. She passes on a relationship with him for that reason, despite her clear affection for him. So he's left to be a bystander while she flirts and sleeps around with all of his friends. In the end, they are simply left with each other, as friends. Sad, and empty. Like much of their lives.
I had to laugh at one aside that Hemingway makes: he spent pages describing the road to one town, and while the character visits a bookie, the author remarks on his bookmaking and says "but that's not part of the story". I had to laugh out loud, as so much was in this that seemed irrelevant, pages and pages of descriptions of dust and roads and people, and yet he mentioned that one piece of information as inconsequential.