In 1937, courageous and independent Martha Gellhorn travels to Madrid to report on the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War…
– Love & Ruin
[ About Love & Ruin ]
In 1937, courageous and independent Martha Gellhorn travels to Madrid to report on the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War, and finds herself drawn to the stories of ordinary people caught in devastating conflict. She also finds herself unexpectedly – and uncontrollably – falling in love with Ernest Hemingway, a man already on his way to being a legend. In the shadow of the impending Second World War, and set against the tumultuous backdrops of Madrid, Finland, China, and especially Cuba, where Martha and Hemingway made their home, their relationship and professional careers ignite.
But when Hemingway publishes the biggest literary success of his career, they are no longer equals, and Martha must make a choice: surrender to the suffocating demands of a domestic lifestyle, or risk losing her husband by forging her way as her own woman and writer. It is a dilemma that will force her to break his heart, and her own.
[ My Thoughts ]
When I was deciding on what books I would bring to Spain on holidays with me last month, I wanted to select books that I had purchased myself, books that I have been wanting to read for some time. The other prerequisite was that a few of my choices would have a Spanish flavour. Love & Ruin by Paula McLain was an easy pick as, quite simply, I just love her writing. Having been enthralled by The Paris Wife and Circling the Sun, I was eager to get back to that fascinating era of our history, that time when Ernest Hemingway’s writing was reaching new heights on publication of For Whom the Bell Tolls….which brings me to another of my choices. I was thrilled to find this Vintage edition of For Whom the Bell Tolls in a local second-hand book shop and, with it’s dedication to Martha Gellhorn, I decided to read it first, to understand a little more about this fascinating couple and about his literary success, that the New York Times described as ‘The best book Hemingway has written.’ Ernest Hemingway was very passionate about Spain and it’s culture, using his experiences there during the Spanish Civil War as inspiration for this novel. At the time of publication he was in a relationship with Martha Gellhorn, hence the dedication.
For Whom the Bell Tolls was my first Hemingway novel and I will admit, it took me awhile to get into it, due to the language used, the formality of it. But I did since read that Hemingway was using a direct translation from the formal Spanish, as would have been the manner of speech between all the characters in the story, as they were acquaintances and not friends. Hemingway’s novel brought the horrors of the Spanish Civil War alive for readers at the time, when the written word was the main source of world news for many. The fear, the inhumanity of it all, the pure hatred that existed with neighbour fighting against neighbour is wonderfully portrayed throughout. For me it was these vivid descriptions, and the feelings that they invoked, that brought alive the pure terror of that time.
It’s a book I am thrilled to add to my ‘have-read’ classics and I know I will most definitely be sourcing the movie over the next few weeks.
So having read my first Hemingway, I moved onto Love & Ruin, by Paula McLain, the novel that is based on the romance of two very strong and independent personalities, Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn. Published in 2018 by Fleet, I was really excited to read it and I can say it was everything I had hoped for and more. Paula McLain encourages me to do my own research into the characters she portrays, expanding my mind to some incredible historical figures and for that I thank her.
But who was Martha Gellhorn?
Martha Gellhorn never wanted to settle down to a mundane life. The prospect of a husband, a house and kids was never on her agenda. Martha, much to her parents frustration, wanted adventure, wanted to experience the world at large.
‘It seemed imperative not only to be on the move, and feeling things, but also to be my own person, and to live my own life, and not anyone else’s’
Following the death of her father, Martha, her brother, Alfred, and her mother went on an adventure, leading them to Key West, which is where Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway have their first encounter. Martha, an aspiring writer, is in awe of Hemingway and soon finds herself visiting his home where he lived at the time with his second wife, Pauline. With a home in Key West and two small children, life was good for Hemingway. But, as time passed, and as news of the Spanish Civil War spread, Hemingway knew where he had to be….Spain.
Martha, after their initial meeting, crossed paths with Hemingway on various occasions, eventually making the life-changing decision to follow him to Madrid, as a journalist. Female war reporters were unheard of at that time, so this was where Martha Gellhorn would make her mark. Her reports established her as an international reporter of great standing, a reputation that remained hers for many years.
The almost inevitable relationship between Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway was a very passionate one, one that shone very brightly for a time. Hemingway always had a very soft spot for Cuba and in 1939 Martha joined him there. She purchased a rambling old finca and worked on making it their home, a love nest for two creatives, away from the maddening crowd, but until Pauline divorced him, there was always a strain during that early period.
In time they married but it was to be doomed from the start. Ernest worked on his book, For Whom the Bell Tolls, pouring his everything into it. Martha, was writing her own books but, success as a published author was a goal she struggled to achieve. On publication of Hemingway’s masterpiece, the literary world exploded. Nothing of it’s like had been published before and everyone wanted a piece of this most extraordinary of writers. For Martha, this time became very challenging, always sharing Ernest with his friends and fans, wherever they went.
Like when she was younger, Martha wanted more. So, after a number of years, she returned to what she loved, journalism and her marriage to one of the most iconic writers in history faltered.
Love & Ruin is a wonderful depiction of this most emotionally charged of relationships. Ernest Hemingway’s portrayal as the tormented artist and Martha Gellhorn’s portrayal as a frustrated writer with a very independent personality is extraordinarily captured by Paula McLain. These two very passionate and strong individuals were too similar in many ways.
‘Ernest always said there was a season for everything. A season to love and be loved. To work and rest your bones and your spirit. To dream and to doubt, to fear and to fly. What season was this then, if not of ruin? Of utter defeat? For seven years Ernest had been not so much in my heart and mind as in my very blood cells. And now I would have to learn to live without him. How? Where could one learn to do that kind of amputation, and walk away alive, and still be the same person?’
Love & Ruin was the perfect read for me following on from For Whom the Bell Tolls, the book by the man and the book about the man. Martha Gellhorn went on to become a world renowned war journalist, reporting during World War II and beyond, from conflicts in Nicaragua to El Salvador and many more troubled places across the globe.
Paula McLain doesn’t suggest that her version of Martha Gellhorn’s story is THE story but rather ‘a blending of fact and fiction’. Her admiration for these strong historical women she chooses to write about is her inspiration in bringing these stories to her many readers.
‘I think it is important to say that my Gellhorn isn’t the Gellhorn, for how could she be? That woman is a mystery, the way we’re all mysteries, to our friends and family and loved ones, and even to ourselves. And yet the woman I discovered, in trying deeply to understand her, I couldn’t admire more. Whatever her flaws, she was incandescent, a true original, and I won’t ever forget her’ – Paula McLain
Love & Ruin is a truly compelling tale about a remarkable woman. Martha Gellhorn’s strength of character, her bravery and her pure determination is clearly depicted throughout. Paula McLain writes with a great passion, captivating the reader and transporting them back in history on a very exciting journey indeed. I eagerly await the next book…..
[ Bio ]
Paula McLain is the author of the New York Times and internationally bestselling novels, The Paris Wife and Circling the Sun. She’s also published two collections of poetry, Less of Her and Stumble, Gorgeous, the memoir Like Family: Growing Up in Other People’s Houses, and a first novel, A Ticket to Ride.
She received her MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan in 1996, and has since received fellowships from the Corporation of Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, the Ucross Foundation, the Ohio Arts Council, the Cleveland Arts Prize, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her essays have appeared in The New York Times, Real Simple, Town & Country, The Guardian and Good Housekeeping.
She lives with her children in Cleveland, Ohio.
Website – http://paulamclain.com/