Review: Love and Ruin

Love and Ruin by Paula McLain

Ballentine, 2018. Hardcover, 352 pages.Cover: Love and Ruin

McLain’s newest novel features the story of Martha Gellhorn, a lifelong war correspondent and the third wife of Ernest Hemingway.  It opens with Martha’s life before meeting Hemingway when she worked as an aspiring novelist and sometimes journalist. After her father’s death, Martha, her mother, and her brother visited Key West as to not celebrate their first Christmas without the family patriarch at home in St. Louis.  The family stumbles upon Hemingway nearly upon arrival. Martha, who’s novel just debuted to great success, is amazed to come across a writer who she admired and learn that he was impressed with her work.

In the months that follow, Hemingway encourages Martha in her writing.  When the chance to go to Spain as a correspondent comes up, not only does Hemingway go, he also arranged for Martha to go.  While there, the two become close. The relationship does not end when they return home and Hemingway eventually leaves his second wife for Martha.  While those early years while waiting for his divorce were often idyllic as the pair created their Cuban home, after the marriage occurred times turned tumultuous.  Where the Martha and Hemingway too similar? Did those similarities impact their marriage? Those are just two of the questions to novel addresses.

In addition to Martha’s relationship with Hemingway, detail is paid to her other family relationships.  Martha often goes to her mother for advice. She also becomes a second mother to Hemingway’s three boys: Jack (nicknamed Bum) from his first marriage and Patrick and Gregory from his second.  She loves them and they adored her. As World War II began, Martha worried about the draft-aged Bum and used her status as a war correspondent to visit him while he was on duty multiple times.  Martha’s friendships with several other fellow correspondents were also addressed during her time in Spain, Norway, Britain, and Italy.

I truly enjoyed reading about Martha’s life, even when things got rocky.  She had such a determined nature to be her own person that it was hard not to.  And that’s what made Martha a trailblazer for women. In terms of McLain’s writing, as with her previous books, it was written in the first person and featured vivid descriptions.  The plot continued to thicken as layers were added to the story. Often, these layers made readers feel the same pain or elation Martha did. As in her last two novels, McLain succeeds in bringing these often forgotten women to light, as she did with Hadley Richardson in The Paris Wife and Beryl Markham in Circling the Sun.  I will mention that both Martha and Hadley were wives of Hemingway (third and first, respectively), so in a way their biographical novels could be considered companion novels.  One does not have to read one to understand another, but Hadley is mentioned frequently in Love and Ruin and her son Bum is a supporting character in this novel.

I was provided this book for review from NetGalley. It will be released on May 1, 2018.

Do you think you will read this novel?  Have you read McClain’s other books?  If so, what did you think?


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