Book Review: Mrs. Hemingway, by Naomi Wood

Ernest Hemingway is known for many things: his stunning, crisp writing; his bravado and charm; his ability to drink obscene amounts of liquor; and his way with women. This last is the focus of Naomi Wood's incredibly researched and delightfully tense novelization of Hemingway's four (yes, four) wives, Mrs. Hemingway.

The novel's title is clever and accurate, as the three-hundred-odd pages are divided into four sections: one for each of the Mrs. Hemingways of history. First there was Hadley, known to most readers as the prominent figure in Paula Maclain's recent hit novel, The Paris Wife, as well as for her shiny, reminiscent place in Hemingway's essays in A Moveable Feast. Then there was Pauline Pfieffer, known to Hemingway and the world alike as Fife, who remained dedicated to Hemingway for over ten years, editing the writers' works, keeping his house in the Florida Keys, and pumping his career full of her family money--and the only of the four not to outlive Hemingway himself. Next was Martha Gellhorn, herself an author and also a war correspondent, whose relationship with Hemingway is aptly book-ended by two wars: an affair that started during the Spanish War and a marriage that ended with the liberation of Paris. And last, Mary Welsh, another war correspondent, the wife who was with Hemingway until his very last, unfortunate days.

"He wants his wife, he wants his mistress, he wants everything he an get. He is not so much greedy for women as blind to what he thinks he needs and so he grabs at everything."

Wood has clearly pored over Hemingway's works and secondary materials on both the author and his many wives in great detail; though the passages on each Mrs. Hemingway are necessarily short, as all four of them are packed into one novel, they feel real and fully developed, believably in love with, and in turn exasperated with, Ernest Hemingway. The chronology of each Mrs.' section jumps back and forth through time, which can make each relationship hard to follow in places. Ultimately, though, the humanity of each marriage, and how even Hemingway, whose history makes it easy to paint him a selfish bastard, struggled through them all, makes the stories of this author and his many women alluring to the known but still sadly shocking end.

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Note: Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of this title for review.
Mrs. Hemingway | Naomi Wood | Penguin | May 2014 | 336 pages

3 comments

  1. I saw Wood this past Saturday at the Edinburgh Book Fest and literally just posted my report on that! Wood was absolutely delightful. Now I just have to write up my review of Mrs Hemingway (which i finished waiting in line to see Naomi Wood!). I didn't love it, but you will have to wait to find out why.

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  2. Sounds one aspect of his life is given prominence in this novel. An interesting aspect that is!

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