A 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.