Review: Love and Ruin: A Novel by Paula McLain



Ever since I finished reading Paula McLain’s earlier Hemingway book, The Paris Wife, I have ached for Hadley Richardson, first wife of writer Ernest Hemingway. Now I have a few feelings–though not many, for Pauline Pfeiffer–the woman for whom Hemingway left Hadley. But for Martha Gelhorn? None, I’m afraid. Hear me out, please.


Gelhorn and Hemingway in China. Photo: Wikipedia


“That’s the problem with going into the world, isn’t it? You actually have to face things you find you don’t want to know….”  

[Ernest Hemingway in Love and Ruin]

Martha (Marty) Gelhorn is a legend. She was a war correspondent at a time when women were barely allowed into the military let alone allowed to serve as correspondents at the front. She was a successful writer whose work appeared in the top-selling magazines of the day–back when magazines were a huge part of people’s lives. She also wrote short stories and books.  All of this gets overshadowed today by one simple choice she made: She became the third Mrs. Ernest Hemingway.

“Not every place has a story.”

[Ernest Hemingway in Love and Ruin]

Now, I can’t explain any more than she or Ernest, why they thought having an affair in a war zone was a good idea. It’s even more baffling that they thought the idea of him divorcing the second Mrs. Hemingway and leaving behind two of his three sons, was absolutely necessary to their happiness, but that’s what they did.

“…simple perfection of each day….”

Hemingway, often characterized as a “man’s man,” needed the bolstering of a devoted wife, yet sabotaged his marriages with his womanizing. Gelhorn, as relentlessly independent as I am, was not suited to marriage with such a needy partner. I could relate to her feelings so well.  I was amazed, though, at her naivete that it would all work out with a man on his third wife! And her easy use of the word “we“? I honestly can’t imagine using that word today and I’m only down one husband!


One minor historical error that does not affect the story–penicillian wasn’t available for the Spanish Civil War.

And, one very annoying thing– how many times can you use an odd word like “escritoire”???

A couple of odd modern-day ideas slipped in as well. Were people “self-aware” in this time period? And, was “shape-shifting” an idea? Those struck me as very out-of-place.

My Verdict

A very well-done retelling of their lives.  I hope she’ll do the story of his last wife, Mary, as well since that marriage will be lived out in the house Marty found and lovingly made into Ernest’s home. Reap what you sow. I’ll be in line on release day to get it if she does!




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