Love and Ruin, Paula McLain, author, January LaVoy, narrator
I have enjoyed reading the author’s previous books, but this one left me a bit cold. I did like it, but only as a beach read, or perhaps chick lit, which I do not prefer.
This novel is billed as historic fiction, but it grows more into a romance. It is about the supposed relationship between Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn. Although much younger than he, she, an aspiring writer, is enamored completely by him, his fame and reputation. After her father dies, she goes on a trip to Spain with her grieving mother. There, in Barcelona, they encounter Hemingway at a bar. According to McLain, he engages them in conversation, and voila, they are smitten.
After she goes home to America with her mom, he gets in touch with her and encourages her to return to Spain to cover the war and to be with him. Hitler will soon march across Europe. He gives her hints on how to wangle her way there under the auspices of a publisher. She knows he is married and has met both his wife and their daughter; this knowledge does not dissuade her from crossing the sea and having an affair with him, nor did it dissuade his current second wife from taking him from his first wife.
At times, Martha seems painfully naïve, and at other times, she seems to be a woman of the world as she pulls off her charades and manipulates situations to enable her to return to Europe, to both be with Ernest and to cover the action. Although there are interesting moments like her involvement with Eleanor Roosevelt and the tidbits about the war, with she and Ernest falling into each other’s arms as bombs fell, I found it to be largely a love story about two people who felt irresistibly drawn to each other when they met. I wondered at Gellhorn’s mindset as she surely must have realized that once married and cheated, then twice married and cheated, the thrice married was not going to be the charm to bring about permanency in Ernest’s lovelife. He was still going to cheat.
***About half way through the book, I inadvertently erased it from my listening device. I have to wonder if it was an unconscious desire to discontinue the book. I did not like the way Gellhon was portrayed as a shrinking violet at times and as a sophisticated woman of interacting with the rich and famous, at others. I wondered if she was using Hemingway and hanging onto his coattails for the purpose of furthering her own career, which it inevitably did. The portrayal of Hemingway as a letch and terribly disorderly character disturbed my romantic image of him as a charming lover sought by many women.
The book felt melodramatic to me, and although I did put myself back on the wait list at the library to get the book and finish it, I am not sure that I will be motivated to do so when it comes due. I have an ebook, so perhaps I will take another look at that. At any rate, if you like chick lit, and you like this author and don’t expect too much from the book, you will like it.
***I decided to finish the book, but my conclusion is the same as before. It is not up to McLain’s other books. It is chick lit. The war bits and the history make the book more palatable, but the romance and dialogue between Hemingway and Gellhorn seem very hackneyed. The prose was not inspiring which made the novel’s authenticity questionable for me.
The idea that a serial cheater is more in love with Martha, than she is with him, seemed disingenuous. Does anyone really know the truth about that? He certainly had a lot of wives. I felt that McLain made Gellhorn too large a presence in his life and made her too large a presence, period. She seemed so immature at times, and yet her war correspondent life defied that image.