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. 

Miniature Musings: those loved, but not yet reviewed

This is a small selection of books I have read the latter half of the year that I have loved, but not yet reviewed.

book train

Never Mind by Edward St. Aubyn

I just don’t have the words to explain why I love this book – it’s up there with Parade’s End and The Reader in brilliance. It tackles such a difficult subject, which I won’t spoil or attempt to discuss, and so much happens without much actually happening. Aubyn is a master of characters, they are so real they carry a beautifully eventless plot. I’ve mentioned many a time the importance I put on realistic characters, and Aubyn delivers. Never Mind covers a day in the life of the Melrose family and friends; as the day unfolds you drift into the psyche of each of them, and with the exception of Patrick there is no one who you particularly like – but plenty of characters to loath.

Maggie & Me: A Memoir by Damian Barr

I met Barr while volunteering at the Brighton Festival, but didn’t get around to reading his book till a few months after. It is a moving memoir of a homosexua child in a very unfriendly – but occasionally loving – environment. I was shocked by events in Barr’s childhood, but amazing by where he has gone since – cried my way through a fair amount too.

I Am Not Myself These Days: A Memoir by Josh Kilmer-Purcell

I have never read a memoir like this before and I am so glad I took the advice from a fellow blogger (whom I now forget, apologies) and added it to my Amazon basket. Josh is an advertiser by day and drag queen, Aqua, by night; the book covers Josh’s time with Jack, his crack addicted callboy boyfriend. It’s a turbulent relationship – passionate and fractured – occurring in Josh’s early life in NYC.

Magda by Meike Ziervogel

When it came to studying WW2 at school, the allied story was dull to me, I didn’t enjoy studying it as it was given to me wrapped with propaganda in a haze of tedium. It wasn’t until post university that I came back to this part of history, and with the help of The Reader I became fascinated by the stories of regular German citizens during and following WW2. Magda is the fictional story of Magda Goebbels, wife of Joseph Goebbels, and the end of the war. Multiple characters are covered, each in different methods of storytelling, from diary entries to interview transcriptions. It’s harrowing, even with the element of humanisation.

Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively

I bought this book after reading Emily’s review, she made it sound incredibly appealing and so I bumped it up my to-read list and dived in. Moon Tiger is the history of the world, the world of Claudia Hampton. It’s wonderfully disjointed and skips point of view with delightful speed. Although I initially found beginning it difficult, I soon got lost in its pages. Claudia is a historian; she has an intellectually symbiotic relationship with her brother Gordon, an intense sexual relationship with the volatile Jasper and an underwhelming relationship with her daughter Lisa – who never quite meets her intellectual expectations.

Have you read anything brilliant this year you’ve not got round to reviewing?

Review: The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida

Everyone should read this book.

trijYou’ve never read a book like The Reason I Jump. Written by Naoki Higashida, a very smart, very self-aware, and very charming thirteen-year-old boy with autism, it is a one-of-a-kind memoir that demonstrates how an autistic mind thinks, feels, perceives, and responds in ways few of us can imagine. Parents and family members who never thought they could get inside the head of their autistic loved one at last have a way to break through to the curious, subtle, and complex life within.

Using an alphabet grid to painstakingly construct words, sentences, and thoughts that he is unable to speak out loud, Naoki answers even the most delicate questions that people want to know. Questions such as: “Why do people with autism talk so loudly and weirdly?” “Why do you line up your toy cars and blocks?” “Why don’t you make eye contact when you’re talking?” and “What’s the reason you jump?” (Naoki’s answer: “When I’m jumping, it’s as if my feelings are going upward to the sky.”) With disarming honesty and a generous heart, Naoki shares his unique point of view on not only autism but life itself. His insights—into the mystery of words, the wonders of laughter, and the elusiveness of memory—are so startling, so strange, and so powerful that you will never look at the world the same way again.

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