I saw Naomi Wood at the Edinburgh Book Festival on Saturday, so i’m writing this quite a few days after the fact. She was on a panel with David Park (The Poets’ Wives) talking about biographical fiction. Both have recently written novels with predominant literary figures at the heart of them. For the most part I will be sticking to Woods comments, as I have not read David Park’s book.
Noami Wood is the author of Mrs. Hemingway (my review), a novel that looks at each of Ernest Hemingway’s successive wives. As it is biographical fiction, Wood relied heavily on the Hemingway letters at the JFK library in Boston and Hemingway’s own memoir, A Moveable Feast.
The one question Wood kept coming back to, and one that I believe haunts her to a certain extent, is what was Hadley (Ernest’s first wife) thinking in inviting Fife (Ernest’s second wife) on vacation with them to Antibes. If you’ve read Mrs. Hemingway, The Paris Wife or know anything about this period in Hemingway’s life, you are probably asking yourself the same question. In spite of all of her research, Wood could not come up with a satisfactory answer to this question, but she attempts to give Hadley the benefit of the doubt.
Another question that was touched upon a number of times was how do you tell such a well known story and keep it compelling. This is espeicially difficult in the case of biographical fiction, where the author is beholden to the facts and hitorical record. For this reason, Wood found Martha Gellhorn, Ernest’s third wife, most difficult to write about. She was a writer and reporter in her own right, and so much is known about her. Unlike the other women in the novel, she never defined herself as ‘Mrs Hemingway’.
Overall, Wood came off as a thoroughly engaging and lovely person. I look forward to whatever she writes next, though she assured the audience that she was done with biographical fiction.