Love and Ruin – Paula McLain
Ya’ll know I love me some Ernest Hemingway and having read and loved Paula McLain’s novel, The Paris Wife, which focused on Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley, so of course, I was going to leap at the chance to read another of her books about one of the many Mrs Hemingways!
In 1937, twenty-eight-year-old Martha travels alone to Madrid to report on the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War and becomes drawn to the stories of ordinary people caught in devastating conflict. She also finds herself unexpectedly—and uncontrollably—falling in love with Hemingway, a man already on his way to becoming a legend. In the shadow of the impending Second World War, and set against the tumultuous backdrops of Madrid, Finland, China, Key West, and especially Cuba, where Martha and Ernest make their home, their relationship and professional careers ignite. But when Ernest publishes the biggest literary success of his career, For Whom the Bell Tolls, they are no longer equals, and Martha must make a choice: surrender to the confining demands of being a famous man’s wife or risk losing Ernest by forging a path as her own woman and writer. It is a dilemma that will force her to break his heart and her own.
This book focuses on Martha Gellhorn, writer, journalist, war reporter, and wife of Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway had a lot of wives and many of them were overshadowed by him, but I always found Martha to be fascinating because she was a writer in her own right and she had published two novels before she’d even met Hemingway. There is a collection of novels now about the wives of the great American writers and this was just as interesting as the others. It serves as both a biography and a novel shining a light on the second world war in Spain – a time that I rarely get to read about.
This story depicts the setting of the War in Europe brilliantly, while not detracting from the lives of the main characters. We mostly follow Martha’s life, establishing her personality and desires, her meet-cute with Hemingway and then their relationship and how it progressed. I make no secret of the fact that Hemingway is one of my problematic faves, he wasn’t a particularly nice chap, no matter how good he was at writing and this book portrays him exactly as I expected him to be, he cheats, he drinks, he’s self-centered and immature. Martha is such a strong, wonderful woman and we get to see her courage and her guts throughout this book, she embraces the war and her place in it, especially when she’s interviewing POWs and witnessing the horrors of Nazi forces in Germany and the government in Spain as it becomes a dictatorship. Hemingway is a major player in this story, but this is all about Gellhorn, her life, and her passions.
One great thing about biographical novels like this is you get a sense of a person and their place in the world and it was a genuine pleasure getting to know Martha. Paula McLain is a very talented writer and has clearly found her niche writing about Hemingway and his wives but I would like to check out some of her other books. That being said, I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next and hope that we get to meet another incredible woman.