“There were fifteen acres…but it was hard to see much of anything with all the overgrowth. The house…was Spanish-style and looked abandoned. Thick vines strangled the peeling yellow shutters, parts of the roofline, and the drained pool full of sand and empty gin bottles and tin cans. I should have run screaming, but the place had the feel of a fable…La Finca Vigia, it was called–“Watchtower Farm”…We would be two writers under one roof, hiding away from everything but each other and our work.” Paula McLain, LOVE AND RUIN
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 Gellhorn 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 the devastating conflict. It’s the adventure she’s been looking for and her chance to prove herself a worthy journalist in a field dominated by men. But she also finds herself unexpectedly—and uncontrollably—falling in love with Hemingway, a man on his way to becoming a legend.
In the shadow of the impending Second World War, and set against the turbulent backdrops of Madrid and Cuba, Martha and Ernest’s relationship and their 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 could force her to break his heart, and hers.
Heralded by Ann Patchett as “the new star of historical fiction,” Paula McLain brings Gellhorn’s story richly to life and captures her as a heroine for the ages: a woman who will risk absolutely everything to find her own voice.
As a Hemingway aficionado, and a fan of Paula McLain’s previous novels, I eagerly anticipated the release of LOVE AND RUIN. I had the pleasure of attending McLain’s launch event at Random House, and was captivated by the tales of travels and dreams that inspired and guided the writing of the book. It was a pleasure to dig in after such an introduction.
Before reading LOVE AND RUIN, I confess I knew little about Martha Gellhorn outside the context of Ernest Hemingway. It shames me to admit that, when he was only a part of roughly nine of her eighty-nine years of life. She was a war correspondent for more than ten conflicts and a writer for sixty years, publishing five novels, two short story collections, and fourteen novellas. She wrote travelogues and memoir, and her pieces on poverty for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration resulted in her friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt. Martha Gellhorn is a strong and worthy protagonist.
I devoured LOVE AND RUIN. For me, Cuba is the heart of the book. The Finca Vigia is paradise found, then lost. Though the reader does not discover the place with Gellhorn until midway through the book, the Finca feels like the payoff for all of the world and relationship building that preceded it. It is enchanting to read about Gellhorn’s work transforming it into their writing oasis. Later, as the marriage fails, I felt the loss of the Finca just as acutely. The marriage could not last, but I’d hoped Gellhorn’s sanctuary could have.
Gellhorn deep-seated need to travel, to seek conflict and those lost in it, and to report on it is the hallmark of the novel. Her courage and her sense of adventure are astounding, and her survival: a miracle.The war scenes are riveting and revealing, but it is McLain’s tender sketches of Gellhorn’s relationship with Hemingway’s sons that are particularly moving, giving her character dimension.
And yet, the novel is called LOVE AND RUIN. Hemingway is the hinge upon which it swings. He is the draw, the eternal fascination, the complicated man so many love to hate, and McLain is at her sharpest when the two forces of nature meet at their full power. As she did in THE PARIS WIFE, McLain provides small interludes where Ernest is the point of view character. In the vivid revelation of his demons, these scenes redeem him when we want to despise him, proving McLain is a masterful writer.
Someone in the audience at McLain’s event asked her if she would ever again write Hemingway. Having read two of McLain’s Hemingway novels now, the story of Mary Hemingway gets my vote. Lovers of strong women, history, and yes, Ernest Hemingway, will find much to interest them on the pages of LOVE AND RUIN. Highly recommended.
Have you read it or McLain’s other novels? Which is your favorite?