Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood

Mrs-hemingwayA few weeks ago I had the pleasure of seeing author Naomi Wood at the Edinburgh Book Festival. As I was waiting in line, ready to enter the auditorium, i finished her book Mrs Hemingway, but have not yet had a chance to review it. So with the image of it fading in my memory, i will now attempt to put together a few coherent thoughts.

Mrs Hemingway recounts the story of Ernest Hemingway’s four (!) wives. Wood did an amazing job researching the book and tried to give some real insight into why intelligent, self assured women repeatedly found themselves married to a temperamental philanderer.

The book, of course, starts with Hadley Richardson, Ernest’s first wife, whose story is largely retold in Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife. I think that because I had already read this book, I was a little bored by this first section. I already knew what was going to happen and it all seemed rather fresh in my mind. Similarly, the story of Fife (Pauline Pfeiffer), Ernest’s second wife is rather well worn territory as well, though Wood did a wonderful job at softening an individual who is often viewed as a sly temptress.

One of my favorite parts of the novel was dedicated to Wife 3, Martha Gelhorn, who is a fascinating woman. In fact I would have loved an entire novel just about her. The story ends with Mary Welsh, who is forced to pick up the pieces after Ernest’s untimely death. This, in fact, was my favorite part of the novel, likely due to the fact that I knew the least about this part of Hemingway’s life (and afterlife).

Overall, Mrs Hemingway may not have been the best choice of novel for me. Though I love Hemingway’s writing, I’ve never been a fan of the man. Let’s face it, he was a bit of a jerk. Ultimately, this novel just made me even more angry at him for treating the women in his life to poorly. I’ve also read a fair number of novels set among The Lost Generation lately, and I think I’ve become bored with them.

Who would like this book?  Obviously this book is perfect for fans of Hemingway who want an inside look at his life. More than The Paris Wife, Mrs Hemingway really deals with the personal side of Hemingway’s life. Instead of all the partying with the Fitzgerald’s, we get a picture of the Hemingway family’s domestic sphere in Mrs Hemingway.


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  2. I didn’t like The Paris Wife much. I think like you, I do not care for Hemingway the man (I’ve never actually read any of his work) and couldn’t understand why someone like Hadley would even stay with him. And if you can’t relate to the material…it becomes stale quickly. Now if there was a book on Martha Gelhorn and Hemingway was a footnote…I might read that.

  3. I’ve had this one sitting on my shelf since May, I started it, got maybe thirty pages in and suffered from the same thought as you – a bit boring. I am already familiar with his marriage to Hadley, so I wasn’t enjoying it and haven’t picked it up since.

  4. I go back and forth between wanting to read this book and not. Maybe next year… I found a book called “The Women Who Wrote the War” some months ago. I haven’t yet read it, but it mentions Martha Gelhorn. Maybe that is something you would be interested in.

  5. Okay, glad I am not alone floating in the boat of boredom concerning this book. While the frustration shouldn’t be against Wood and her writing, it was all due to my inability to enjoy a book about women that are supposed to be smart and intelligent flounder around chasing a man that clearly could care less what or whom was in the room with him whenever his need struck. It was painful to read about these women turning against one another instead of turning on the man. I as well have found that I cannot find enjoyment in these stories like Z, and Studio Saint X, etc. Too disappointing and I’ve not reached for anything like them since.

  6. I can see how Hemingway being such a continued ass could be a turn-off in this book. I actually thought that Wood’s account of his four marriages humanized him a bit more than some other works about him (fiction and non) that I’ve read, but that still doesn’t make him at all a nice guy. Still, interesting that four such interesting, smart women fell so hard for him–there must have been something about him, that larger-than-life persona that so many records talk about–that doesn’t convey on the page. Because lord knows he was never a good husband, that much is clear.

  7. Thank you for validating my feelings. I’ve not been interested in this book just because I think Hemingway was an over-rated macho pig- especially in his personal relationships. Deep down, I think he hated women. Anyway, this novel sounds like a pass for me- thank you for not adding to my TBR pile!

  8. I’m in a bind here, I react to those who hurt others to the extent of rejecting their writing (eg J-J Rousseau who had his children put into a foundling hospital, Thomas Hardy who wrote acclaimed, but to my mind hypocritical, love poems to his deceased wife when he’d ignored/neglected her when very ill turning all his attention to the woman who was to become his second wife, later neglected too), and yet I love Rouseau’s humanity and Hardy’s novels. Ernest Hemingway IS a great writer: Old Man and the Sea, For Whom the Bell Tolls for instance and he does write movingly on love too. People are of their time, are complex – obvious I know.. The Cuban author Leonardo Padura writes on Hemingway’s work in a most thoughtful way in his Mario Conde detective novel: ‘Adios Hemingway’ – it made me reconsider Hemingway’s work yet again. I heard ‘The Paris Wife’ read on R4 and enjoyed it. Shall I confuse myself even more by reading Naomi Wood’s book? I think I’ll wait until it appears in my local Oxfam and concentrate instead on my TBR.
    Best wishes anyway.

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