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