The Last Fiesta - Andy Rumbold
The Last Fiesta - Andy Rumbold ****
I have to admit that Hemingway's Fiesta (or 'The Sun Also Rises') is one of my favourite novels. It's a work that - along with Hemingway's lifestyle - has inspired many people to set out to live life to the full and experience life as an adventure. Andy Rumbold's The Last Fiesta could be seen as a tribute to Fiesta - even the synopsis reads like a virtual updated rewrite of Hemingway's masterpiece - but it's clear that the author and his characters are well aware of that fact. And perhaps that's the intention.
Rumbold's version of The Sun Also Rises is set in 1995. Dan has been living in Santander in self-imposed exile from England, running away from a failed relationship with a girl who has since married his brother. Fully aware of his own failings, recognising that there's nothing glamorous about living in shabby accommodation and teaching at a school in the north of Spain, Dan doesn't romanticise his situation. There is perhaps a mistaken yearning for the past that leads him to invite some friends over to follow the now well-trodden Hemingway-tourist path to participate in the bull-run at the San Fermín Festival in Pamplona.
There's no direct one-on-one correlation between Hemingway's characters and Rumbold's, but there are similar types of personalities and similar kinds of tensions that build up between them. Dan the narrator is no Jake Barnes but by the same token he's not as self-aggrandising and self-pitying as Jake often seems to be. It's Billy who seems to be closer to Jake, having fought in the war (the Gulf War) and clearly being somewhat psychologically damaged by the experience. More critically however Fi is very much intended to be the Brett Ashley character whose flirtation with Billy causes much consternation for her fiancé Simon (similar to the dynamic between Robert Cohen, Lady Brett and her fiancé Mike) and an unpleasant atmosphere that sours the party atmosphere.
So far, so much Hemingway. Like Fiesta, the tensions and cracks start to arise even before they get to Pamplona. In Rumbold's book this takes place with the whole group of friends taking a side trip to the Picos de Europa mountain range, drinking a lot and fighting amongst themselves. There are other vague parallels with Hemingway's novel and these seem to become more direct as the group arrives in Pamplona. Some of the scenes and dialogue there is almost identical, albeit in a more modern setting (1925 in Fiesta, 1995 in The Last Fiesta). In terms of writing and characterisation however, while Rumbold never attempts to mimic Hemingway's style and introduces other background histories, it doesn't seem to hold together as well.
So what is the purpose of essentially rewriting The Sun Also Rises? Since Hemingway's work is referenced throughout, not least by the characters themselves, The Last Fiesta is perhaps not so much a rewrite as a way of exploring questions of self-awareness. Dan and his friends might consciously follow in the footsteps of others, but they don't seem to have the self-awareness of what the consequences are likely to be. Whether it's 1925 or 1995 or 2015, there is a universal quality to how people react to certain situations where old histories, mixed with love, drink, and danger can only lead to an unhappy conclusion. The characters in The Last Fiesta even know how things panned out for Hemingway in his attempts to live life to the fullest, but it doesn't seem to be able to prevent them heading unstoppably down the same path to self-destruction.
The Last Fiesta by Andy Rumbold is published by Red Door Publishing.