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Love and Ruin by Paula McLain

I adored Paula McLain’s book, The Paris Wife, which detailed Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage to Hadley Richardson. Love and Ruin tells the story of Martha Gellhorn, who was Hemingway’s third wife. The star of this book is undoubtedly the glamorous and fiercely independent Martha Gellhorn, who was a respected war correspondent and writer in her own right. Martha first meets Hemingway in a Key West bar where they strike up a friendship, and he invites her and her mother to his family home with his then-wife Pauline and their sons. They are both drawn to the conflict in Spain, and in 1937 they are war correspondents in the thick of the fighting – and it is during this conflict they fall devastatingly in love.

They set up home together in Cuba, but as Hemingway publishes the biggest literary success of his career, Martha finds her ambitions being pushed aside. She is particularly galled that her writing is constantly being compared to his by reviewers. Can she forge her own way as a woman and writer, or will she forever be in her husband’s shadow?

The action in Love and Ruin moves from Spain to Finland to China, from Florida to Cuba, and shows Hemingway at some of the most inspiring and most ruinous moments of his life – but it is Martha who shines in this novel. A woman passionately in love with her husband, a woman his intellectual equal in every respect, but a person who is confronted with the biggest dilemma of her life – to surrender to the suffocation of her domestic life in the shadow of Hemingway, or to follow her passion and dreams for her writing.

There is plenty of action and danger in this novel, but it was the quieter moments I enjoyed the most. I enjoyed a glimpse into the writing life these two created when they were a harmonious couple – the way they gave each other space and supported each other, the way they discussed their ideas, and enjoyed creativity and their passionate love under the Cuban sun. The author captures both the joy and the angst of two writers wrestling with their work and projects that ultimately turn them into competitors. Hemingway is a compelling, complicated but flawed man. Martha is courageous, fiercely independent and ambitious, but in private plagued by self-doubt. Love and Ruin is memorable, page-turning historical fiction, about a passionate, stormy relationship that burned oh so brightly before turning to ruin.

Hachette, RRP $34.99


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