Love and Ruin by Paula McLain is a beautifully written historical fiction that follows one of Ernest Hemingway’s wives, Martha Gellhorn through her early carrier and marriage. It is a story within a story that sucks you in and pulls you along on an emotional journey.
I picked up this book while in BAM!, drawn to it because of the ties to Hemingway and the beautiful language that I found in just a general page flip to decide if I wanted to purchase this book or not. Within the first few chapters of reading, I knew that I had made a good choice in purchasing this book.
Martha is a struggling novelist, writing for magazines and newspapers to pay the bills, hoping for her big break, a concept I could certainly appreciate and understand.
The language is positively beautiful with an early modernist writing style that is authentic and speaks to the literary connoisseur within me. The words paint a picture that make you feel the struggle, fear, and heartache that Martha goes through as she navigates combat journalism and being in love with the notorious Hemingway. Making the words come to life in such a tangible fashion that you can feel the dust and smell the blood.
“The boy scrambled after her, thin dark socks slipping into his rope-soled shoes, her shawl becoming the edge of a kite tail pulling him along.”
Though the romantic plot of the novel is bitter-sweet, the writing side, the feminist side, is brilliantly told. The struggle of an upcoming novelist and the way she navigates criticism in an industry which thought women could only report on fashion and fluff pieces is truly inspiring. Martha saw the wars she covered through the eyes of humanity instead of logistics. The people dying weren’t just soldiers or rebells but someone with a story, with dreams, and loved ones. It is truly beautiful and heart-wrenching to read.
Because the book is a historical fiction, it stirs the curiosity to research Martha Gellhorn, to read some of her novels, and even to view Hemingway’s works in a different light. McLain creates a behind the scene image of what it may have been like to live in the Hemingway house and to be this woman.
The “Author’s Note” and “A Note on Sources” was very insightful, further cementing the reality of Martha Gellhorn and the amazing strides she made for females in journalism, specifically combat journalism. She covered everything from the Spanish Civil War to Vietnam to Panama, ending her life when she couldn’t write anymore because to her writing was life.
I think one of the most moving scenes in the book is the landing at Normandy. I have never heard that day described from such a perspective, it was truly humbling. It is important that we give such vivid details to human tragedy, to war, in order to remember that any life and all life is precious.
“They were young and scared and cold and hurt, and it didn’t really matter how they’d been wounded, or who they were before this precise moment of need. Every last one of them made me feel gutted, and there were hours of this. Blood-soaked bandages, flares sailing like red silk over the beach with a pop, tanks, and bodies. Men and more men. Men with boys’ faces. Boys spilling their lives into the tied, and the tide taking each drop and churning, changing, crashing out and back again.”
If you like historical fiction, empowering women stories, or simply enjoy reading about the lives or writers, this is a must read.
I easily give this book two thumbs up.