Book Review : Love and Ruin by Paula McLain - More2read
 

Love and Ruin by Paula McLain


Love and Ruin by Paula McLain :

The bestselling author of The Paris Wife returns to the subject of Ernest Hemingway in a novel about his passionate, stormy marriage to Martha Gellhorn—a fiercely independent, ambitious young woman who would become one of the greatest war correspondents of the twentieth century.

In 1937, twenty-eight-year-old Martha Gellhorn travels alone to Madrid to report on the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War and becomes drawn to the stories of ordinary people caught in the devastating conflict. It’s the adventure she’s been looking for and her chance to prove herself a worthy journalist in a field dominated by men. But she also finds herself unexpectedly—and uncontrollably—falling in love with Hemingway, a man on his way to becoming a legend.

In the shadow of the impending Second World War, and set against the turbulent backdrops of Madrid and Cuba, Martha and Ernest’s relationship and their professional careers ignite. But when Ernest publishes the biggest literary success of his career, For Whom the Bell Tolls, they are no longer equals, and Martha must make a choice: surrender to the confining demands of being a famous man’s wife or risk losing Ernest by forging a path as her own woman and writer. It is a dilemma that could force her to break his heart, and hers.

Heralded by Ann Patchett as “the new star of historical fiction,” Paula McLain brings Gellhorn’s story richly to life and captures her as a heroine for the ages: a woman who will risk absolutely everything to find her own voice.


Praise:

“Wonderfully evocative…. [Paula] McLain’s fans will not be disappointed; this is historical fiction at its best, and today’s female readers will be encouraged by Martha, who refuses to be silenced or limited in a time that was harshly repressive for women.”— Library Journal 

“McLain has perfected her dramatic and lyrical approach to biographical fiction, lacing Marty’s ardent inner life into electrifying descriptions of place and action…. McLain brings forth the deepest, most ringing elements of both ‘love and ruin,’ the two poles of Marty and Ernest’s tempestuous relationship, a ferocious contest between two brilliant, willful, and intrepid writers. McLain’s fast-moving, richly insightful, heart-wrenching, and sumptuously written tale pays exhilarating homage to its truly exceptional and significant inspiration.”— Booklist 

“If you loved McLain’s 2011 blockbuster The Paris Wife, you’re sure to adore her new novel, which is just as good, if not better.”— AARP

“McLain strikingly depicts Martha Gellhorn’s burgeoning career as a writer and war correspondent during the years of her affair with and marriage to Ernest Hemingway…. Gellhorn emerges as a fierce trailblazer every bit Hemingway’s equal in this thrilling book.”Publishers Weekly

“Romance, infidelity, war—Paula McLain’s powerhouse novel has it all.”— Glamour

“Engrossing … [Love and Ruin] spotlights a woman ahead of her time—a fearless reporter who covered the major conflicts of the twentieth century.”— Real Simple

“McLain’s ability to base a work of fiction on real people is nothing short of superb. Readers may pick up Love and Ruin because of their obsession with Ernest Hemingway, but they’ll fall in love with it because of Marty Gellhorn.”— BookPage


Review:

Martha Gellhorn lived from 1908-1998, a renowed war correspondent that some have possibly not known of, except maybe due to the film Hemingway and Gellhorn.
Friend of Eleanor Roosevelt and 3rd wife once of Ernest Hemingway.
She was a pioneer and trailblazer in her time, a voice against injustices, and a voice for the ordinary people. Gellhorn had written for New Republic, The Atlantic and Colliers, published novels and many essays.
Covered news on the World War Two, Spanish Civil War to the Bay of Pigs, from Vietnam to El Salvador to Panama and explored up to fifty countries.

It all started that day at Sloppy Joe’s in Key West, during a 1936 Christmas family trip, meeting that occasionally brutish man with all his sound and fury.
If she could foretell the days and years to come she would have steered clear of the booze and fighting that would await her, alas she was wooed and flattered by his words, and the art of this macho man.
With bombs dropping, chaos and war in Spain in a hotel, they crossed lines and entangled.

“On November 21, 1940, in the gently moth-eaten dining room of the Union Pacific Railroad in Cheyenne, Wyoming, I became the third Mrs. Hemingway.”

Hemingway was man set on a path in ways that diverted at times to chaos and self destruction and at same time crafted great works of fiction.
The violence he put himself amidst and the father that committed suicide by gun seemed to insidiously pull him along down a road.
Gellhorn as a woman had seen plenty death and conflicts, the dead, the ruin and along with that she was a rugged and tough woman and something Hemingway was attracted to but he was already married.
Two writers, the same trade, and art, there would be death in the afternoon and love in the morning.

La Finca Vigía, Watchtower farm, a home she sought out and was her vision for her and Hemingway, two writers to be under one roof in Cuba, of which Gellhorn tells us of in this narrative. It was interesting to learn of this fact, as I knew of the place but never had associated it with Gellhorn’s vision.
He was writing the book of his life with casualties possibly later on including his marriage, like that of Fitzgerald writing the book of his life and collaterol damage with love and ruin with his wife Zelda Fitzgerald.
Ultimately he was too Hemingway for her.
It was great being in the same room as Gellhorn, Hemingway, Dos Passos and Orson Wells.
This narrative was a captivating and engrossing read with an accessible informative eye into days of Gellhorn and Hemingway and pursuit of happiness, justices and writings.


La Finca Vigía, Watchtower farm.


Excerpts:

“Something was missing in my life—in me—and I thought writing could fill it or fix it or cure me of myself. It was only a notion I had, but I’d been following it faithfully, from St. Louis to New York, New York to Paris, Paris to Cannes, to Capri, and now to Stuttgart, where I meant to do research. I’d recently begun a novel about a young French couple that would do bold and important things in the name of political pacifism—go on strike with coal miners and endure the metal truncheons of the gendarmes, all in the name of social justice.”

“A private tour of Key West by Ernest Hemingway? Of course. Sure thing. Don’t mind if we do.”

“Embarrass was hardly the word. I was overwhelmed. Ernest Hemingway had read my work and liked it. Had recognized my name. Had thought well enough of the book to want my signature inside. Flushing, I thanked them both and then sat awkwardly with the volume in my lap, not knowing what to write that would adequately describe my feelings. The whole situation felt like a fantasy, surpassing my wildest imaginings.
Then, just when I thought I couldn’t be more flattered, Ernest offered to let me read pages of his new novel, which was about fishing and Bimini, and “rich people,” and getting ruined a little, he said.”

“But these writers were like magazine covers. Like skyrockets, too. That I was here, even glancingly lit by the wake they cut, was still a little stupefying. Not that I didn’t have ambition. Sometimes I thought I was entirely made of it. As I’d said to Kyle, I meant to show him and everyone else that I could be a proper journalist, a writer others admired, and respected, and remembered. I wanted my name to matter but for the moment was still an apprentice, and particularly in this crowd, where heroes were milling about, ready to be clung to. It would take time for me to earn my way. To prove myself, and to rise.”
“You’re not a fraud, you know,” Ernest said, as if he’d read my mind. He’d sat back down to say it, reversing his steps. “Your work is good.”

“Madrid was several hundred miles northwest over the coastal range and across the great plateau, La Mancha, flat brown fields that went on and on, possibly forever, full of trees and goats and the kinds of windmills that Don Quixote had flung himself at. It was mountainous and broad, rolling in every direction, and there was a sense, as you drove, of how old it was, too, how full of history.”

“And then there was all the rest of it, too, how noble this revolution was, and how crucial, quite possibly one of the most important moments my generation would know. And I was here for it, incredibly enough. I couldn’t let myself ruin this experience, not when I was so close to figuring everything out. What mattered to me, and what I wanted out of life, and who I really was, deep down.
Spain was a chance to find my voice as well as my compass. Tumbling into anyone’s arms would be a grave mistake now, but being with Ernest would be riskier still. I couldn’t lose this lovely bridge of friendship and understanding between us, not when it was so new. Not for sex alone. I also couldn’t begin to imagine anything like an actual relationship with such a man. He was like a film star here. When he said anything, everyone leaned nearer. His scribbled-off dispatches, almost unintelligible if you didn’t know what you were looking at, earned him five hundred dollars each. I had fifty dollars to my name and no idea if I had the talent to earn more.”

“I didn’t want to cause trouble; I only knew what I knew. That Ernest could eclipse me, large as any sun, without even trying. That he was too famous, too far along in his own career, too sure of what he wanted. He was also too married, too dug into the life he’d built in Key West. Too driven, too dazzling.
Too Hemingway.”

“How does someone arrive at love with such a person?
I didn’t at all know, but that’s what was happening to me. I was falling in love, and it was wonderful, and it was awful. I wanted to run like hell and never look back. I wanted to shut the lid down tight and stay in this room forever.”

“But before I could even properly dig in, an editor at Collier’s reached me with news. They were going to publish the article I’d written in Madrid. Millions would read my piece, and see what I had seen.”

“He’d believed in me from the beginning. Whatever else had happened between us, or not, he’d encouraged my work and saw potential in me as a journalist long before I had.”

“Cuba had been Ernest’s private hideaway for many years. When things in Key West grew too hot or his wife and family too demanding, he escaped on his beloved Pilar to the Ambos Mundos in Havana to write. Actually, he kept rooms at two different hotels, working at the Ambos and sleeping and collecting his mail at the Sevilla-Biltmore so that he wasn’t entirely findable on any given day or night, not if he didn’t want to be.”

“La Finca Vigía, it was called—“Watchtower Farm”—and no one had lived there for many years. Inside, the rooms smelled close and old and mildewy, and all the furniture needed to be burned. There were cockroaches in the kitchen, and years of dust built up, and so much to do everywhere. But if I squinted, I could picture myself writing in the library off the main sitting room, and Ernest hammering away at his typewriter in some other part of the house. We would be two writers under one roof, hiding away from everything but each other and our work.”

“And so began the season of two writers writing under one roof. Ernest told Pauline he was staying in Cuba for the unforeseeable future and wasn’t seeing any friends or guests. Then he put down roots made of words. He chose our bedroom for his writing space, beginning at first light each morning, at the standing desk he’d made out of a bookcase. Everything that he needed was there, well-sharpened pencils and the wooden reading board he used to hold each blank page when he was writing longhand. The typewriter he turned to when things were going particularly fast and well, and the chart he always kept of each day’s word count. It was a good place for him, just before the south-facing window. I would often wake and lie still for a long time with my eyes closed, listening to the rhythm of his pencil on the page, and the bees in the flowering jacaranda beyond him, dizzy with their own industry. When I rose, I didn’t stop to speak to him and he didn’t speak to me—something we agreed was important for mornings, and for writing.”

“Meanwhile, he was on fire with a new novel. There were no five-finger exercises for him now, but rather a volcano thrusting up under the surface of everything and taking him over.
“At first I thought it was a story,” he told me late one night when we were wrapped around each other in our big good bed, my leg thrust over his waist, his hands caught in my hair. “But they’re chapters. I think I’ve started the war novel I’ve meant to do. I know I have, actually. I’ve been worried to even say to myself what I’m up to. Something special is happening. The words keep coming, and I look up and I don’t know where I am, or where I’ve been.”

“In the end, I had to admit that Ernest’s utter commitment to this book about war while the world raged on and on was his stand. I found it hard to agree with him, and might not ever, but I had to respect the book. He’d begun sharing pages with me again, and they were magnificent, as good as anything he’d ever done or might do. Max Perkins had set November as the date to publish, and so Scribner’s needed the pages now, if not yesterday.”

“He had the Scribner’s contract in his shirt pocket, and it was a doozy—promising 20 percent on copies once he reached twenty-five thousand copies sold—an almost unheard-of royalty. The Book of the Month Club was also sniffing at the book for their October selection, and if that came through, they would print one hundred thousand copies immediately, and the number would just go up from there. Scribner’s was going to devote all its window space on Fifth Avenue to display copies, and there was even talk already of the movie rights being snapped up in Hollywood, with Gary Cooper playing the lead.”

“And it was beginning to dawn on me fully just what all this meant. The book already glowed with a rare incandescence most writers would have killed for—to stand in that light for even a moment. It was a dark and shimmering star, creating its own atmosphere and gravity. It was the biggest thing in our lives.”

“I want him, but he’s such a force of nature. He pulls everything into his orbit and seals off the corners and any route of escape. He does it all without trying, and with very little self-awareness. And this book. He might be finished with the writing, but it’s not going away, not in the least. Some sort of wave is beginning. I can feel it.”

“All the rest of that day, I chewed on my thoughts. Ernest had already been through two wives, both of them strong women if I could believe his stories. And yet they hadn’t been strong enough, or their love hadn’t been. Either way, the end had come sadly and irrevocably. Could I bear it, if that’s what fate had in store for us as well? Could I bear walking away in fear, not having tried at all?”

“For nearly a decade, he’d been accused of macho posturing, of writing prose that was akin to wearing false hair on the chest—as Max Eastman had so meanly scolded in print for all of America to read. But Ernest knew there was more inside him, and he’d gone to Spain to find it, to access the raw and elemental sort of experience that he knew would bring him to life again as a writer. And it had worked brilliantly. He’d written the precise book that would rocket him past any further doubt from the critics as to his ability, and to quiet the demons in his own mind.”

“The Burma Road was a big story—an important story—and I wanted to be the one to tell it.”

“With royalties from For Whom the Bell Tolls continuing to roll in wavelike, Ernest decided to use some of them to buy the Finca outright. We’d been renting since I found the place, and making repairs out of our own pockets, but by the time we returned from China, it was ours, every last stitch of it, right down to the cluster of mauve orchids on the ceiba tree and the locusts rattling in the palms. We celebrated with a raucous party, inviting our Basques and everyone else we knew from town, and somehow the mood of celebration just kept rolling forward for the rest of the summer. The house was never empty, and the liquor never stopped flowing.”

“Ever since he was a boy, he’d had moods that could steal in and leave him almost breathless. Sometimes they came so quickly and seemingly from nowhere that he took to fearing what could happen inside him, the terrible transformation from one feeling that could be handled to another, more horrible one that couldn’t.”

“We fought about his drinking—which had become bottomless, unstoppable—his boasting, his need to control everyone and everything around him. We fought about the house, about money, about work—everything that might be dragged out to spit and snarl over, chewing it to pieces.”

 

 



 


 


 

Reviewed by Lou Pendergrast on 03 May 2018