Love and Ruin by Paula McLain
Love and Ruin is the story of Hemingway's third wife, Martha Gellhorn. Much like her previous novel, The Paris Wife, that looked at the life of Hemingway's first wife, Hadley, this is a dramatic, intimate portrait of a strong and dynamic woman who captured the heart of one of America's greatest writers.
Martha was a young aspiring fiction writer reeling from the recent death of her father when she has some success with the publication of her second novel. On a family vacation in Key West, Florida, she happens across Hemingway at a small restaurant. She instantly recognizes him, but doesn't know until later that he also recognized her, as he was a fan of her new book. Hemingway begins inviting Marty's family to join his wife and children for dinners and outings while they are all in Key West. As they prepare to leave, Hemingway convinces Marty to come to Spain with him to learn wartime journalism from the front line's of Franco's coup in Madrid. While in Spain, despite their 15 year age gap, they fall in love and begin an affair.
When they return from Spain, they set up house in Cuba, a place that Hemingway has retreated to alone for years. Over the next few years, they buy a property, fix it up, and live there together as Hemingway proceeds with a slow and messy divorce from his second wife. During this time, Hemingway writes his most famous novel The Sun Also Rises, with significant inspiration from Marty and their love story. Eventually, though, their love story begins to crumble as Hemingway's depression, moodiness, and insecurities rock their relationship as they have his prior ones. In the end, they divorce and Marty goes on to become one of the leading female war correspondents of all time.
When I finished The Paris Wife I had a deep loathing for Hemingway. McLain had fully vilified him. This novel was a nice change to see him as a more rounded, flushed out person, but I still don't understand how he managed to draw so many amazing women to him, and convince four of them to marry him, with his selfishness and morose changeable temperament that he often took out on them. I will never understand the bad boy appeal, I guess. I enjoy all of McLain's work- she brings female characters to life and rounds them out in rich, full ways, and I loved how she brought Marty to life, preserving her independent streak. This is probably my favorite McLain novel that I've read. That being said, McLain is a dramatic writer, and I have felt through each of her novels that the drama could have been toned down a bit because her lead characters often come off as highly emotional and mildly unstable, unable to make sound decisions, but pulled by their emotional whims, and I don't think that was true to the extent that she portrays it. For lovers of Hemingway and historical fiction, this is a great read, and I'm glad I was able to learn more about Marty Gellhorn and her life- she really was a fascinating woman.