What’s it all about?:
In the dazzling summer of 1926, Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley travel from their home in Paris to a villa in the south of France. They swim, play bridge and drink gin. But wherever they go they are accompanied by the glamorous and irrepressible Fife. Fife is Hadley’s best friend. She is also Ernest’s lover.
Hadley is the first Mrs. Hemingway, but neither she nor Fife will be the last. Over the ensuing decades, Ernest’s literary career will blaze a trail, but his marriages will be ignited by passion and deceit. Four extraordinary women will learn what it means to love the most famous writer of his generation, and each will be forced to ask herself how far she will go to remain his wife…
Luminous and intoxicating, Mrs. Hemingway portrays real lives with rare intimacy and plumbs the depths of the human heart.
What did I think?:
Oh my goodness, where to start with this book? I LOVED it. I’ve actually had it for quite a while meaning to get round to it (as always!) so many thanks to the Richard and Judy Book Club here in the UK for putting it on their Spring Books 2015 list. This is a fictional account of the four Mrs Hemingways – Radley, Fife, Martha and Mary and their lives with the irresistible Ernest who appears to draw women towards him like an unstoppable magnet. Each wife has the luxury of their own chapter to tell their side of the story which the author has based around real telegrams, letters etc which gives it a ring of authenticity.
The first wife, Radley is especially famous as she actually invited her husband’s mistress Fife (soon to be Mrs Hemingway the Second) on holiday with them. Who does that?! As a result, Hadley intrigued me from the beginning and I was entirely convinced and determined that I was going to hate Fife by the time her chapter came around. I was equally surprised and delighted to find that this was not the case and with each account I read I felt deeply immersed and sympathetic with that particular wife.
I did also feel as the more I read the more I began to understand Ernest as a man. We all know about his amazing talent as a writer but as a person he was hugely insecure, self-critical, co-dependent and drank like it was going out of fashion. His descent into alcoholism is hinted at even from his first marriage to Hadley where his joy at breaking out the booze at a respectable time (which appears to get earlier day by day) is palpable. Ernest appears to be a man who is in love with being in love and after the initial rush has passed gets bored, restless and perhaps even a little frightened?
Before I read this novel, I probably knew more about Hadley due to Paula McLain’s excellent book The Paris Wife which came out in 2011. I loved that on finishing this book Hadley came across as intelligent, caring, sensible and level-headed. Hadley and Ernest have a child together so it’s probable that even though Ernest pulled her through the emotional mill and she had every right to be bitter, she managed to keep their relationship amicable after their marriage ended which is very admirable. Each wife however had something new and fresh to bring to the plate and I ended up feeling an affection for every one of them especially when we consider what happens to Ernest in the end.
Mrs Hemingway was a vibrant, beautiful and touching piece of fiction that gives an interesting insight into what it’s like to be married to one of the brightest and most troubled minds in history. I loved how each wife got their own section and with each one we learn how wonderful it is to be married to Ernest yet how crushing it feels when the relationship ends. I can only imagine the amount of research it must have taken to write a book like this and heartily applaud Naomi Wood for producing what I can only describe as a phenomenon of writing. Even if you’ve never read any Hemingway before, read this book. Fascinating and powerful, I’m sure I’ll be re-reading it again quite soon.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):