Published by Fleet on May 1, 2018
The bestselling author of The Paris Wife returns to the subject of Ernest Hemingway in a novel about his passionate, stormy marriage to Martha Gellhorn—a fiercely independent, ambitious young woman who would become one of the greatest war correspondents of the twentieth century 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.
The lives of writers endlessly fascinate me. How they manage to balance the mundane of everyday life with the magic they weave with their minds, their fingers, their precious words. The life of Martha Gellhorn was embarrassingly not known to me. Overshadowed by what knowledge I had of her husband, I hadn’t paid attention. I’m paying attention now. If the Martha Gellhorn is even slightly like the fictionalised Martha that McLain has imagined so impeccably, I have found a new heroine to aspire to.
A writer, traveller, ambitious and brave woman in a time when woman were expected to step aside and support their men, have just enough ambition without being overly presumptuous to expect more in the male sphere, Gellhorn stormed ahead, took her rightful place amongst the greats and pushed the boundaries of career, social mores and love. Her affair with Hemingway is the supporting act in this novel where Martha is the star. Hemingway’s ego, control and simmering rage are captured beautifully by McLain who chronicles the lives of these two very similar yet different souls, each searching for what can be found in each other but equally destroyed.
Set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War leading into the Second World War, we follow Gellhorn as she moves from city to city, country to country, always following the story, seeking truth and reporting it to those back home. Fearless, she thinks nothing of dropping everything, hopping on the next available boat or plain, forging on into what could possibly be unspeakable danger. Her meeting with Hemingway in a bar in Key West is serendipitous, his initial connections help her to establish a place in “his” world but she eager to make it on her own and not rest on her laurels; she strives to write the next piece, the next novel. Refusing to give up, whatever the odds, the inevitable heartache, Gellhorn instils in the reader a pride and hope that she will find her way.
McLain’s vivid description of early 20th century life in the US, Cuba and Europe is fabulously realised and has an almost cinematic quality, it’s easy to imagine the fragrant fruit scented air of Havana, the bustling frenetic energy of New York and the tension and anxiety of the war-torn cities of Europe. The easy mentions of historical figures such as Eleanor Roosevelt and some of the 20th century’s greatest journalists makes you feel that you’re gaining a secret glimpse into a mysterious and wondrous world.
The characterisation is extremely well done, never caricaturist in its depiction which can always be a worry when reading fiction about real-life people.
The story flowed, never stilted and I enjoyed the insight into life at the time, the realism and romanticism.
Beautiful prose, vivid imagery and unforgettable characters, LOVE AND RUIN is the perfect addition to your summer reading list. Add a daiquiri, no sugar and plenty of lime ala Hemingway and sit back and be transported to another world.