Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

The Old Man And The Sea – Ernest Hemingway

I didn’t love The Sun Also Rises, so you’d be forgiven for thinking I was done with Hemingway. But I couldn’t resist inheriting my grandparents’ copy of The Old Man And The Sea, a beauty published by Jonathan Cape in 1962. It’s a little worse for wear, but still perfectly readable.

The Old Man And The Sea - Ernest Hemingway - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Get The Old Man And The Sea here.
(I’ll be grateful until I’m old and out to sea myself if you make a purchase through an affiliate link that supports this page.)

Ernest Hemingway wrote this novella between December 1950 and February 1951, and it was first published in 1952. It was his last major fictional work to be published before his death. It’s hard to separate the content and themes of The Old Man And The Sea from Hemingway’s own life and state of mind at the time. His previous novel had been savaged in reviews, his wife wasn’t speaking to him (because he’d fallen in love with his “muse”) and he was drinking his life away in Cuba. Feeling old and dejected and cursed, but holding onto hope for a silver bullet solution, pretty much sums it up – both Hemingway and his book.

The blurb for The Old Man And The Sea sums it up well: it’s “the story of a young boy, an old man, and a giant fish”. That’s literally it. A young boy helps care for an old fisherman who hasn’t brought in any catch lately; then the old man goes out on his own and catches a huge marlin, so big he can’t haul it in himself and it tows him out to sea.

It took longer to read than I thought. Even though it’s short and an ostensibly simple story (old man + big fish = trouble), The Old Man And The Sea is surprisingly emotive and weighty. It’s a tragic one-two punch: the pitiable old man puts in such an effort (literally, his life on the line) to haul in this great fish only to have it snatched out of his grasp, and the quiet dignity with which he suffers and perseveres.

Ultimately, it’s quite a bummer – especially when you read it knowing a little about Hemingway’s personal life at the time of writing.

Hemingway sure went out on a high, though. The Old Man And The Sea earned him his first Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953, and it was the only of his works specifically cited when he was awarded the Nobel Prize For Literature in 1954. The judges praised his “powerful, style-making mastery of the art of modern narration” (which seems to me to be a very fancy way of saying “he write good”).

And, the highest praise of all: *I* liked it, far better than anything else of his I’ve read. The Old Man And The Sea is definitely the one to pick up if you’re not sure you’ll vibe with Hemingway and his whole schtick. There’s a lot less explicit misogyny and ethnocentrism in this one (it’s still there, but not quite so in-your-face), and it’s definitely Papa at his most emotionally intelligent and sensitive.

Read The Old Man And The Sea on audiobook via here.

My favourite Amazon reviews of The Old Man And The Sea:

  • “I don’t care about fishing and I don’t see the point of the story.” – Samira P.
  • “If I could give this book zero stars, I would. This is a poorly written “classic” that doesn’t deserve the time to be read. If you don’t want to take my advice, then have fun reading about an old guy who is very angry at a fish.” – laura harshbarger
  • “The Old Man and the Sea reads as if it were written by a demented philosopher with the vocabulary of the current American President, trying fruitlessly to convey some idiot zen life lesson… If you like dull old men in boats writing about dull old men in boats alone, this is the book for you. Or, for those curious as to what alcoholism does to the mind, read The Sun Also Rises and this book back to back.” – Dr Moreau


  1. This is the first Hemingway book I read (and I liked it)… but it very much felt like starting at the top of a slippery slope.

    • Sheree

      December 11, 2023 at 11:54 AM

      You definitely started out strong, then – steer clear of The Sun Also Rises, it cannot possibly improve your opinion of him 😅

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