Blog Tour: Love and Ruin

I absolutely loved this book. Loved it. I knew I would: I also really loved The Paris Wife and I’m so there for largely fictionalised accounts of actual events. Like The Crown. That’s like a documentary in my head, you know?

Anyhow, another book about Hemingway’s super complicated love life set amongst the backdrop of the war? Yes please. I read 265 pages on Sunday when I was tired and didn’t want to leave my house and it was glorious.

I liked it in part for the history;  the first part was set in Spain, in the late 1930’s at the height of the Spanish Civil War – a period of history I know little of and which was really really interesting to read about. So there was that. It’s always fun to learn about things you feel you should probs know more about. Everybody who knows me knows that I am weirdly drawn to books with a wartime theme. & also really drawn to the likes of Hemingway and Fitzgerald and what their lives might’ve been like. Generally though this is just a really good story made better by the fact that it’s based in truth.

This is the story of Hemingway’s third wife, Martha Gellhorn and it’s her story, not just the story of being married to Ernest Hemingway and as a subject for a book she’s fascinating – the only woman on the beach at Normandy, a war correspondent who travelled the world reporting on conflict. The book follows her from before her first meeting with Hemingway to after their divorce and it’s GOOD.
Hemingway is who you imagine Hemingway to be which is drunk a lot of the time and a bit of a dick but with this sensitivity about him still, loving too much sometimes and so volatile – being loved by Ernest Hemingway seems like something that would have been intense and destructive and McLain does well at portraying, and watching Martha grow as the book progresses is the best thing: Hemingway is her hero when she first meets him, she falls in love with him quickly and kind of gets swept along for a while, first his mistress and then his wife but she has a strength of character which Ernest needed I think, even though he perhaps didn’t know it and she stood her ground and did her own thing and fought for her own career even as she felt like she lived in his shadows somewhat and I liked that about her – she fought hard for her seat at the table and wasn’t prepared to let that die just because her husband shone brighter than the sun. Even as he tried to hold her back and even as she feared doing her own thing might mean she lost him she never lost sight of the fact that she needed to keep hold of her sense of self and I feel like there’s something in that, that we all could learn from. Hemingway seemed toxic in a lot of ways and sometimes it felt like he perhaps wanted her to sacrifice her career, so supportive of her in the beginning but then wanting her to be just his wife whilst he basked in the success of his work – he published For Whom The Bell Tolls whilst married to Martha – but she was strong enough to stand her ground, to fight to be her own person even as he stood in her way.

This book is obviously meticulously researched, and the most interesting book I’ve read in ages. It was refreshing too, written in first person which: let’s be real here, is a tricky thing to get right. McLain nails it though, and I came away from this feeling like I knew Gellhorn, and Hemingway too actually, they sprang from the pages and Gellhorn’s voice is so clear here – self-deprecating and anxious and stubborn and determined and so full of love and honestly? I liked the bits outside of her relationship with Hemingway the best of all and I am so glad this wasn’t just written as a journey to heartbreak, you know? I mean it is that, it is a love story and one that you get lost in and invested in and gripped by even though you know it’s not going to end well, but it’s so much more than that, and it’s the more than that that really did it for me. That and the cats.

I finished this book and immediately googled Martha Gellhorn and that says a lot, I think.

Oh, and it's out tomorrow: go get.