Thursday, 7 June 2018
Love and Ruin by Paula McLain
review by Maryom
In 1936, young aspiring author Martha Gellhorn walks into a Key West bar and meets Ernest Hemingway. The attraction is immediate, but he's married (to his second wife) with three children, and she's much younger and already been badly let down in an affair with a married man. A year later, they both head off to Madrid as journalists covering the Spanish Civil War, and, thrown together, fall rapidly and recklessly in love.
This is a story I was already familiar with, if only in outline - the sort of thing picked up from the author biography at the back of paperback - and it's not necessarily easy to turn fact into readable, engrossing fiction, but Paula McLain has. It isn't entirely new ground for her - she's already visited the subject in The Paris Wife, which told the story of Hemingway and his first wife Hadley Richardson - but Martha Gellhorn stands out from the other wives (there were four in all) as being well known in her own right, as a war correspondent.
When they meet, Hemingway is well on his way to being a literary superstar, and Gellhorn still trying to find her feet as a professional writer, but in Spain she finds her calling, reporting the horrors of war, bringing home the impact on people caught up in conflict, and as the years pass the balance of power - in the shape of literary success - begins to shift between the two; after the huge success of For Whom The Bell Tolls Hemingway's career grinds to a halt, just as Gellhorn's starts to really take off. She soon finds herself facing a choice - become a stay-at-home wife and mother, as women were in the '40s, or carve out a career for herself, and risk losing her husband.
Told primarily from Martha's point of view, McLain captures the passion that brings these two together, the differences and similarities that ultimately tear them apart, and the trauma of war in which she finds her calling. The short passages told from Ernest's perspective give in insight into how he feels, a desire for a settled 'normal' happy marriage, and an inkling of the black moods that enveloped him later. As I say, I knew the outlines of the story already but McLain gives a fascinating insight into this doomed relationship, brings the characters to life and by the end I felt I knew them well. For what it's worth, my suspicion is that Gellhorn and Hemingway were too alike to ever be happy, both ambitious and focused on their work, but it was that similarity which attracted them to each other, and if Martha had become the home-maker Ernest wanted, the relationship would still have failed.
Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Little, Brown