Mrs. Hemingway – Naomi Wood

Happy weekend one and all!

Can you believe that we are almost at the end of January? For some that may be cause for celebration, but I have to say, January’s been pretty good to me this year. Granted, I have my birthday halfway through the month so you can’t go too far wrong with surprises and cake, but aside from that, it’s been an enjoyable time of year! I am ashamed, however, that this is my very first book review of 2015. This is not to say I haven’t been reading, oh no. I’ve devoured many books and cannot wait to share my thoughts with you on A Place Called WinterHold The Dark and Girl on the Train. All recommended reads. But reviewing takes a lot of time – you need to reflect on the story absorbed, consider its depth, impact and your overall opinion before any writing even takes place. I appreciate this is me just making excuses but forgive me, please. My February resolution is to be better. And I hope Perks will be back with some thoughts too!

mrs-hemingway-9781447226888_1But enough dancing around the subject – let’s get to it. Mrs. Hemingway is a joy to read. I bought this before Christmas in Gatwick airport en route to Guernsey and had already devoured half of it by the time I arrived home. Transporting me far from the gloomy December weather and the airless airport departure lounge to the glamorous twenties in Paris, I was captivated by Hadley’s narrative. To explain, Hadley was the first of Ernest Hemingway’s numerous wives and this is what Mrs. Hemingway follows: the lives of four women as they each encounter and submit to the charms and heartbreaks of the passionate, but fickle, writer. Wood has a remarkable readability to her writing which becomes intoxicating, much like Ernest is to his women.

Hadley’s relationship with Ernest and his lover, Fife, was completely bizarre, at first, but as her story developed, I became more and more attached to her, completely absorbed by her feelings and her inability to leave her cheating swine of a husband (to be frank). This book toyed with my emotions – I’d swing from sympathy to anger with each wave of betrayal. First I felt like I understood Hadley’s actions from her besotted devotion to Ernest, but next I would stare at the page in disbelief as she continued their relationship despite his heart being shared with another. Where was her self-respect and dignity? Why should Ernest get away with his actions time and time again? But this is why the book was so brilliant – it gets under your skin.

For all I’ve said about being absorbed by Hadley and how I was completely heartbroken when she accepted defeat and let Ernest drift away with the dazzling Fife, I was surprised by how attached I became to the spritely yet sensual lover. This is something which happened again and again with the practical war correspondent, Martha and the soothing journalist, Mary – testament to Wood’s touching narrative. With each broken heart, I felt like weeping, torn apart by each woman’s desolation, left bereft without their passionate but deceitful husband. The cycle of mistress to marriage drove the novel to its gut-wrenching but also maddening conclusion (what really happened?!) and left me yearning to discover more of the beguiling yet infuriating writer and his adoring wives. What makes this book truly magical is that it feels more real than any biography – I have lived through Hemingway’s romantic life, have loved and lost with each woman’s brief moment with him and, closing the book, felt as bereft as them having lost Ernest myself.

I cannot recommend this book enough and, once again, doff my hat to the astounding list that Picador is developing with these talented female writers. I really hope Naomi Wood writes again, but in the meantime, I’ll be sure to flick through these remarkable pages again this summer. It brought warmth to my winter but will bring an extra sparkle to those hazy days of summer – I cannot wait to discover more with a reread.

– Franny

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