Review: Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood

Ever since I read The Paris Wife I have become obsessed with the life of Ernest Hemingway – or rather, his wives. I’ve only read two of his books, The Sun Also Rises and A Moveable Feast, both of which I associate with Hadley Freeman. At this time I could not entertain the thought I might have enjoyed his other novels too, inspired by the wives I knew little about.

Until reading Mrs Hemingway, I didn’t have much interest or like for his other wives. It is easy to forget that Ernest was as guilty of ruining each of his marriages as the wife who usurped the last, if not more so! To wit, in the spirit of not blaming the women – up yours patriarchy – I decided to read this book.

Mrs Hemingway by Naomi WoodIn 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, drink gin, have parties – and everywhere they go they are accompanied by the glamorous, irrepressible Fife. She is 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 threaten to overpower him, and his marriages will be ignited by desire and deceit. Four extraordinary women will learn what it means to love the most famous writer of his generation. Each will see him as no other has before and be forced to ask herself how far she would go to remain his wife… Luminous and intoxicating, Mrs Hemingway smoulders with passion and plumbs the depths of the human heart. Synopsis from GoodReads.

Now I have finished Mrs Hemingway I feel more inclined to adventure into Hemingway’s other tomes. I have a new-found sympathy for how Fife, Martha and Mary may have experienced life with Hemingway; I imagine a relationship with Hemingway to have been a series of soaring highs and devastating lows. Fife, a former spectre of malevolence is now a personality I can sympathise with. Martha, Hemingway’s third wife was not a likeable figure, however, her actions and outbursts were always understandable considering who she was dealing with. During WW2 Hemingway left Martha to travel from Europe to America on a ship full of dynamite. Then finally there was Mary, Hemingway’s widow.

It’s impossible to dislike anyone in Wood’s depiction of the rise and fall of Hemingway and his wifes. While his treatment of his wives cannot be excused, his suicide speaks volumes about his depressive personality. Through out, and after, reading it has been difficult to remember that Mrs Hemingway is fiction, based on real events. Wood does a marvellous job of humanising women who I imagine were not depicted in an entirely positive way by the public of their time. Demonising a woman is an easy endeavour and this book goes a long way in showing these women in the most humanistic way possible. I mean, I cannot imagine marriage to Hemingway was easy.

Hadley, I believe, experienced Hemingway at his best – during his pre-fame life. Hadley’s Hemingway was young and hungry for success in a way first time authors are. As Hemingway ages he becomes volatile and needy, and the pain each wife goes through as they are replaced is devastating. Each wife acts as muse for each of Hemingway’s major successes. Each time his life stagnates or he falls from puppy love to comfortable love, he switches to his next inspirational woman. Right until Mary Welsh, who, overpowered by the previous mother figures in Hemingway’s life, had Hemingway at his worst.

Ultimately though, this isn’t a book on Hemingway, it’s about all four Mrs Hemingway’s – the women who made him great. 

7 thoughts on “Review: Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood

  1. How exhausting Hemingway sounds as a partner.

    It’s strange, but I’ve never thought about the fact that only your current spouse at time of death counts as a widow. The definition of “widow” I’ve always had in my mind was evidently something like “once was married to a person who is now dead”, without taking divorce into account at all.


    1. Hmmm, yeah, but I suppose in Hemingway’s case he’d have four widows then. I guess as normally, well ideally, we’d only marry once I can see why you had thought about it that way.


  2. I always wary of 20th century historical fiction (everything just seems too fresh for me to immerse myself), and as a Hemingway fan I particularly would have avoided this, but you’ve sold me. This sounds enthralling.


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