Shew, readers. It has been a crazy few months with lots of working and (not enough) reading in between. Sometimes life takes over, I guess, but at least I can find escape in words. In the past months, I have found myself obsessed with Kent Haruf, underwhelmed by Nelson De Mille’s ‘The Gate House’, and bowing in reverence to the first in Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Series, ‘Palace Walk’. Added to these are works ranging from Pearl S. Buck to Robert Gailbraith – a cornucopia of imaginings 🙂
I also happened to watch the fabulous ‘Hemingway and Gellhorn’ (trailer below) and found myself completely immersed – yet again – in the mystique (dare I say) of Ernest Hemingway, but also found myself intrigued by Martha Gellhorn. Enter Naomi Wood.
‘Mrs Hemingway’ is a fantastic read. It is so enthralling, in fact, I would suggest reading it in one sitting (or as close as possible thereto). A novel written from the perspective of Hemingway’s wives, making provision for overlaps, Naomi Wood has given a voice to the women whose impact on the life of this literary icon is often underplayed. Each voice is distinct from the next. It is utterly sincere, convincing, and moving. The range of personalities is perfectly captured and, although Hemingway himself is the common denominator in the book, the style has the effect of making it seem like he is in the background, yet keeping him in the spotlight for the man that he was.
This was a beautifully real portrayal of love of the man in all of its forms and all of the consequences that follow – betrayal, regret, strength, etc. In the end, it has the effect of inciting pity, dismay, contempt, disbelief and rewarding us with a group of wives that are a diverse cross-section of womankind; women all female readers can identify with on one level or another. I can’t describe how much I enjoyed this book, save to recommend it to anyone with even a fleeting interest in Hemingway (or even without).
I found myself so captivated by the period and the characters that popped up during Mrs Hemingway, I moved straight on to ‘Z’ by Therese Anne Fowler. Even after finishing both, I am still excited by how well the two books complemented each other. Zelda Fitzgerald has a lot in common with the different Mrs Hemingways, but is vastly different. This book follows her beginnings in the American South to her time as one of history’s most famous flappers, and on to worldwide travel at the side of F. Scott Fitzgerald on a quest for inspiration. This book digs beneath this and is akin to getting to know a friend, watching her develop, becoming her confidante.
I finished this book with goose pimples all over and tears in my eyes. Although, prior to reading ‘Z’, I had a partial knowledge of Zelda, this book breathed life into her, made her my companion for a few days of reading, and gave her the identity she deserves independent of her husband. She ached, she yearned, she dreamed. She spent a lifetime at the side of a man she loved in spite of the hardships they encountered and was largely unrecognised for her obvious talents.
Of course, the Fitzgeralds appear in ‘Mrs Hemingway’ and Hemingway features quite prominently among the characters of ‘Z’, so a back-to-back reading of the two was a wonderful way to savour the magic of these two books which have won me over with their brilliance. Both of these fabulous authors have researched and written novels that are perfect for readers like me – those interested in the lives of certain figureheads, yet largely unwilling to pick up a biography (don’t hate me. I can’t help it) and for this I give thanks beyond thanks for books that have quickly jumped on to my list of favourites to be read and re-read.
For those interested in ‘Hemingway and Gellhorn’, here is the trailer.