Genre: Biographical Historical Fiction
Publisher: Random House
Pub. Date: May 1, 2018
The author, Paula McLain, has made a career writing historical fiction memoirs. Her most popular novel, “The Paris Wife” is a fictionalized account of Ernest Hemingway’s marriage to Hadley Richardson. Hadley is Ernest’s starter wife. He had four wives by the time of his death. While married to Richardson, Hemingway wrote, “A Moveable Feast,” his classic memoir of Paris in the 1920s. In McLain’s next novel, “Circling the Sun,” she writes in the voice of Beryl Markham, a British-born Kenyan aviator who became the first woman to fly solo, nonstop across the Atlantic. In “Love and Ruin,” McLain once again comes back to Hemingway. This time, the narrator is his third wife, Martha Gellhorn, known as Marty. As in her other books, it is clear that the author did her homework by researching previously published biographical material on her heroines.
“Love and Ruin” are words that seem to be twin preoccupations in life and literature. It may not be as catchy, but if this book was titled “Love, War and Loss,” the reader would know exactly what they were about to dive into, because the story is about the carnage of war and the ruin of a painful marriage. Marty Gellhorn is considered one of the most important war correspondents of the 20th century. She meets Hemingway in late 1936, in the now infamous “Sloppy Joe’s Bar,” located in Key West, Florida. The bar was a favorite watering hole for the writer. (I’m proud to say I had a drink there). He invites Marty, and her mother, to his Key West house, where he lived with his 2nd wife and two sons. He had another son from his first marriage. (Since I visited the house, which is now a museum, I can assure you that all details are accurate, right down to his wall art. which are movie posters of his books that became films). When Marty hears his plans to travel to Spain as a war correspondent covering the takeover of Spain by Franco, she decides to meet him there. It is during this journey that she discovers her love of adventure. It is also here that the couple’s love affair begins. Hemingway’s experiences in Spain were his inspiration for his book, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” which he wrote in their home in Cuba. I wonder if he needed a woman in his life to write his most famous novels.
Ernest Hemingway truly was a larger-than-life individual. He was also a misogynist alcoholic. His career hit an all time high with “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” while Marty, also a writer of novels, only received notice as Hemingway’s wife. Ernest’s “Bell Tolls” became a movie and they went to Hollywood, California to be on the set. She hated everything about Hollywood. But Earnest was in his glory with all the attention and becoming buddies with Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman. She believed that in order for her to breathe, she needed to get away from Ernest’s needy ego. This was the beginning of the end of their marriage. Determined not to live in the shadow of her famous husband, she accepted dangerous war journalist assignments overseas. Realizing her true passion comes from on-the-ground reporting. She decides to cover D-Day by stowing away on the first hospital ship to land at Normandy, wading ashore to become the first journalist, male or female, to make it there and report back. I found her to be a brave and amazing woman. Unfortunately, her husband saw her leaving not as a work assignment, but as her leaving the marriage. He started the divorce process. You have to love Marty, even though he filed the papers, she was his only wife to leave him. She was heartbroken to read in the newspaper that he already had another woman living with him in their Cuban home. It is hard to like Hemingway, but through Marty’s voice, the author does a great job of describing his deep depressive episodes. For anyone who knew the man, his suicide was not a surprise. Even after their divorce, Marty still worried about her self-destructive ex. As the reader, I wondered if Hemingway would have had a better life if he hadn’t become so famous.
Reading Marty’s first-hand view of war was engaging as well as traumatic. I very much enjoyed the history lesson through the heroine’s thoughts. But, I also felt her feelings on the horrors she witnessed in war, which could be tough. Maybe, this is why I so enjoy historical fiction memoirs. You feel like you are getting inside the head of the narrator, and McLain does this genre extraordinarily well. I should mention that the author has lived an interesting life. She wrote her own memoir, “Like Family: Growing Up in Other People’s Houses.” McLain’s parents abandoned their children. She and her two sisters grew up in foster care homes. Even if you do not care for fictional memoirs; I strongly recommend that you give the well written “Love and Ruin” a try. It has a something for everyone, no matter your favorite genre.
I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.
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