Book Review: Love and Ruin by Paula McLain

Love and Ruin
Paula McLain

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

You may know that I’m a big Ernest Hemingway fan. I’ve read all his books except To Have and Have Not and many of his short stories. I’m also a little obsessed with the person behind his books, how he started out and his relationships, especially with his four wives. I’d read The Paris Wife by Paula McLain years ago and liked it very much. That’s about Hemingway’s early career and his first marriage to Hadley Richardson. During those years, he wrote The Sun Also Rises, his first novel. Love and Ruin is the story of Hemingway’s marriage to Martha Gellhorn, his third wife. I didn’t know about her, but she was a novelist, travel writer, and a famous and fearless war correspondent, the only woman to land at Normandy on D-Day and report on the invasion first-hand. For sixty years, she covered every world conflict that was out there.

Hemingway wrote what may be considered his best book, For Whom the Bell Tolls, while he was married to Gellhorn. Before they were married, they had spent time in Spain reporting on the Spanish Civil War, while Hemingway was married to Pauline Pfeiffer. That’s when their affair began.

Love and Ruin is the story of two very strong egos. It’s about Hemingway’s overwhelming and selfish personality and Gellhorn’s insistence on having her own career, which meant being away from home for long periods of time. Hemingway hated that, felt abandoned and behaved poorly. In this account, Gellhorn was just as stubborn as he was and there was a competitive vibe between them, especially when his books did better than hers. I got the feeling that they both acted selfishly in part to one-up the other. It was obvious to me that Gellhorn was a formidable opponent, not the kind of domestic wife Hemingway really wanted. She was also a trailblazer for women and careers.

I liked Love and Ruin, but I didn’t think it was as good as The Paris Wife. The first half reads more like a history book and I had a harder time getting to know Gellhorn, even though it’s written from her point of view. I liked the parts that helped me see the early seeds of For Whom the Bell Tolls and I learned a lot about Gellhorn’s impressive career. I also learned some new things about Hemingway and his sad decline. McLain did a tremendous amount of research to write Love and Ruin and it shows. Gellhorn burned all her personal papers before she died, so McLain had to piece together what she could about their marriage. I enjoyed the second half of the book, which really dug into the meat of their marital conflicts.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Check out my review of The Paris Wife by Paula McLain.

Like Hemingway? Me too! Check out my reviews:

The Sun Also Rises

A Farewell to Arms

For Whom the Bell Tolls

The Old Man and the Sea

A Moveable Feast

“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”

“Hills Like White Elephants”

“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”

25 thoughts on “Book Review: Love and Ruin by Paula McLain

  1. I too love Hemingway, the man and his work. I enjoyed the Paris Wife and always felt bad for Hadley. Especially when she lost the suitcase with all his work, including the copies. Yikes. I will put this book on my TBR list.

    1. Hi Darlene – yes I guess I was more sympathetic of Hadley. The lost suitcase made me feel bad too. Marty was so in-charge, it was clear their marriage would never work. I know Hemingway was a difficult person – yet I love his writing. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  2. I am a Hemingway fan also and have read some biographies. “The Paris Wife” was on my list but never got around to it, Now I will have to put “Love and Ruin” on my list too. Good review.

  3. Some Hemingway works I’ve liked because I’ve read or taught them: A Moveable Feast & A Clean, well-lighted Place. I’ve read some of his other novels in college, I’m sure.

    I may pass on this book because you mentioned that the first half read like a history book. I like history, but it’s more palatable told as story, not facts.

    1. Just my opinion, but if you want to read more, I’d recommend The Paris Wife which was excellent. Thank you for reading and commenting, Marian 🙂

  4. I didn’t realize Hemingway had so many failed marriages. I’d like to read both The Paris Wife and Love and Ruin…I’m nosy about people’s relationships…lol! Thanks for the reviews!

  5. I’ve read a couple Hemingway books, but it’s literally been years. Like Jill, I didn’t realize he’d been married that many times. Also saw his house in Key West!

  6. HBO released a movie a few years back about Hemingway’s relationship with Gellhorn. I also found an old interview that she did a couple of years before she died (can’t remember where I found it, though). I don’t think that Hemingway should have married at all; he was much too self-absorbed. He treated his last wife horribly as well. A bit of trivia: my dad met him during WW II, and always said that he was a loudmouthed ass.

    1. Hi Davida – you might not like Hemingway any better if you read The Paris Wife. Although I think it’s the better of the two books. Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m all for the read or toss approach!

  7. Why do people with admirable careers destroy all their papers before they die? Are they afraid something about them will be revealed that they need to hide? I am a fan of Hemingway – love The Old Man and the Sea. I have a tie to him – I was born on the day he ‘liberated’ the bar in the Ritz Hotel in Paris when the war in Europe was over! Nice review of a book about two famous people!

    1. Hi Noelle – I know – she must have had something to hide. Or maybe it was just too personal to think that others might read her papers. I get that. You would want to have control over that. That’s a nice connection of yours to Hemingway. I can’t decide which book I like best. The Old Man and the Sea is right up there. Thanks for the visit!

  8. HI Barbara, I think I should read a biography of Hemingway. I would enjoy learning more about him. My favourite of his books are A Farewell to Arms and The Old Man and the Sea.

    1. Both excellent 5 star reads in my book! Thank you for reading and commenting. I’ve never read a biography of Hemingway, but A Moveable Feast, which is his memoir of his days in Paris.

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