Richard and Judy Review: Mrs Hemingway – Naomi Wood

Richard and Judy Review: Mrs Hemingway – Naomi Wood

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“If you’re a man, Ernest Hemingway is synonymous with tough-guy glamour as well as literary greatness. His swashbuckling war exploits, his love of big game fishing, his legendary drinking at Sloppy Joe’s in Key West – all these ‘qualities’ make him seem the macho guy many men would like to be.”

Richard’s review

And his sexual conquests were enviable. So when I read this book I was astonished to discover how needy he was, how much he craved the monogamy of marriage, even though he never managed to stick at it for long.

This side of Hemingway is something of a mystery – and yet there’s no doubt his masculinity, toughness and sheer bravery were genuine enough. That’s what his four wives loved in him.

But they also found a vulnerable and tender quality that made him irresistible, even when he was cheating on them.

This novel, told in the voices of the four very different women who married him, is addictive. Although Hemingway remains something of a conundrum, he is an attractive character, writing, drinking and dreaming. Oddly tender with each wife, too, despite his inevitable falls from marital grace.

The book spans nearly 40 years and takes us through not just Hemingway’s marriages but across the world and through war. The story if how he ‘liberated’ the wine-cellars at The Ritz in London at the end of the Second World War, as told by his third wife, the war correspondent Martha Gellhorne, is hilarious.

Hemingway was obviously a helluva guy – as, remarkably, all four of his sad and betrayed wives attest. I really enjoyed this book – it is full of flair and passion..

“I absolutely loved this jewel of a book. It’s exquisitely written and Naomi Wood achieves an extraordinary feat – she makes the reader almost more interested in a famous man’s wives than in the literary giant himself.”

Judy’s review

The giant, of course, is Ernest Hemingway, a writer whose image of irresistible masculinity still lingers today. Hemingway was adored by women and in this book each of his four wives tells of their relationship with him.

I love the charming way Wood writes in each woman’s voice, and portrays each of them with great respect. There is no bitchiness here; the wives accept that Hemingway needs both the security of marriage and the excitement of sexual variety. Their love for him is extraordinary, and they forgive him everything, even his infidelity.

If you were married to a handsome, world-famous author, would you invite a woman to whom you know is attracted to go on holiday with you both? This is what Hadley, Hemingway’s first wife does – with the inevitable result that he (albeit with great sadness) divorces her (he always divorces with regret; he never stops loving any of his wives) and marries Fife, his second.

And then comes Martha, and finally Mary, to whom he was married when he committed suicide, a drunken, depressed, wreck of a man.

The wives are all intelligent and hugely likeable. Wood’s lightness of touch encompasses the glamour and exoticism of the life these women enjoyed with Ernest; the clothes, the dances, the gin, the stays in Antibes, Cuba and The Ritz. But she also evokes the darkness of the man they all adored. A gorgeous, spellbinding book. I was very sad to finish it.

Press reviews

Here are a selection of the reviews for Mrs Hemingway

“The elegant prose and finely-wrought narrative of this humane novel exceed the sum of its parts.”

The Independent

“Naomi Wood’s novel about Ernest Hemingway and his four women brings their story convincingly, movingly to life… She has made Hemingway’s tragedy seem moving all over again – and that’s no mean feat.”

The Observer

“…whilst this is a fictionalised account based on known facts, it is so beautifully written, so true and so vivid that it eclipses anything strictly biographical.”

The Daily Mail

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