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Book set in SOUTH OF FRANCE + CUBA + USA (Hemingway “…a man of too many wives”)

25th March 2014

Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood, book set in South of France, Cuba and USA.

There were four ‘official’ Mrs Hemingways, and the author describes the time each spends alongside the mercurial Mr Ernest Hemingway. This is the story of the lauded author, his life at various war fronts and his writing career, as seen through four different sets of eyes: Hadley, Fife, Martha and Mary (yes, even the biblical association of the last two wives is not overlooked). It’s such an inventive way of fictionally observing this man, with all his foibles and demons, his utter charm, and his zest for life – and his deeply black moods.

1447226860.01.ZTZZZZZZMarriage number one is largely played out in Paris and the South of France, where we meet Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and vicariously enjoy the life of the beau monde, with whom the Hemingways fraternise; eventually the Hemingways (and that includes all the wives) come to epitomise the Golden Set. It is nevertheless still an impoverished time for Ernest and Hadley and their son Bumby, but the book beautifully captures the high-life, the light and the heady living that was the South of France of the era.

As the story progresses from one wife to the next, there is each time, a sense that the reader is observing the marital relationship as it unfolds, yet all the while looking out for the next woman in the wings; very much something that each wife herself has to learn to do. “A marriage of 3 is better than a woman alone” (apparently!). Forever does not mean forever for Ernest Hemingway.

As Hadley slides away, exotic Fife, in her feather dress becomes firmly ensconced in his life and produces two sons. Hemingway’s writing is becoming popular and thus the settings become even more glamorous, from the South of France to Cuba and back again.

Soon, however, the war correspondent Martha Gellhorn catches his eye and Fife is eased out. And hints of Hemingway’s capricious moods soon evidence in the full gamut of domestic violence of physical, emotional and verbal – yet the women remain tied to his side. In the book he calls Martha “worthless, ambitious, on the make, a bitch” and slaps her when she drives his car into a tree. At the drop of a hat he would swing from tenderness to tyranny, yet the wives stick to his side.

Noel Monks, the erstwhile husband of Mary, wife number 4, has already got a measure of the man and sees him as a loudmouth and a bully. But Mary nevertheless lets herself be seduced by the man of words and in fact outlives him. It is she who draws a veil over his suspected suicide, even though several predisposing indicators were already clearly there – depression treated with electrotherapy, an increasingly labile personality, combined with significant alcohol consumption and capricious outbursts; not a pretty sight.

This book spans much of Hemingway’s life from the 1920s to the 1960s and is a fascinating fictional insight into his life. It felt slightly repetitive because the way Hemingway approached marriage was (to say the least) repetitive. The minutiae of a couple life has been seemingly well researched, and the locales form a great and richly evocative setting, in which lives unfold and disintegrate.

It is interesting of late that I have read a lot of novels of late that feature Hemingway to a great or lesser degree, so if you would like to explore his fictional life (more often than not based on fact) across a couple of genres, then the following novels might just add that extra dimension (and do come and follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest where we talk books, travel and more)

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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