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Love & Ruin by Paula McLain

Article by Swirl and Thread ©.
Posted in | .
In 1937, courageous and independent Martha Gellhorn travels to Madrid to report on the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War…
Love & Ruin by Paula McLain, is a novel based on the romance of two very strong and independent personalities, Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn. Published by Fleet, I was really excited to read it and I can say it was everything I had hoped for and more. Paula McLain encourages me to do my own research into the characters she portrays, expanding my mind to some incredible historical figures and for that I thank her.

But who was Martha Gellhorn?

Martha Gellhorn never wanted to settle down to a mundane life. The prospect of a husband, a house and kids was never on her agenda. Martha, much to her parents frustration, wanted adventure, wanted to experience the world at large.

‘It seemed imperative not only to be on the move, and feeling things, but also to be my own person, and to live my own life, and not anyone else’s’

Following the death of her father, Martha, her brother, Alfred, and her mother went on an adventure, leading them to Key West, which is where Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway have their first encounter. Martha, an aspiring writer, is in awe of Hemingway and soon finds herself visiting his home where he lived at the time with his second wife, Pauline. With a home in Key West and two small children, life was good for Hemingway. But, as time passed, and as news of the Spanish Civil War spread, Hemingway knew where he had to be….Spain.

Martha, after their initial meeting, crossed paths with Hemingway on various occasions, eventually making the life-changing decision to follow him to Madrid, as a journalist. Female war reporters were unheard of at that time, so this was where Martha Gellhorn would make her mark. Her reports established her as an international reporter of great standing, a reputation that remained hers for many years.

The almost inevitable relationship between Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway was a very passionate one, one that shone very brightly for a time. Hemingway always had a very soft spot for Cuba and in 1939 Martha joined him there. She purchased a rambling old finca and worked on making it their home, a love nest for two creatives, away from the maddening crowd, but until Pauline divorced him, there was always a strain during that early period.

In time they married but it was to be doomed from the start. Ernest worked on his book, For Whom the Bell Tolls, pouring his everything into it. Martha, was writing her own books but success as a published author was a goal she struggled to achieve. On publication of Hemingway’s masterpiece, the literary world exploded. Nothing of it’s like had been published before and everyone wanted a piece of this most extraordinary of writers. For Martha, this time became very challenging, always sharing Ernest with his friends and fans, wherever they went.

Like when she was younger, Martha wanted more. So, after a number of years, she returned to what she loved, journalism and her marriage to one of the most iconic writers in history faltered.

Love & Ruin is a wonderful depiction of this most emotionally charged of relationships. Ernest Hemingway’s portrayal as the tormented artist and Martha Gellhorn’s portrayal as a frustrated writer with a very independent personality is extraordinarily captured by Paula McLain. These two very passionate and strong individuals were too similar in many ways.

‘Ernest always said there was a season for everything. A season to love and be loved. To work and rest your bones and your spirit. To dream and to doubt, to fear and to fly. What season was this then, if not of ruin? Of utter defeat? For seven years Ernest had been not so much in my heart and mind as in my very blood cells. And now I would have to learn to live without him. How? Where could one learn to do that kind of amputation, and walk away alive, and still be the same person?’

Love & Ruin was the perfect read for me following on from recently reading For Whom the Bell Tolls. Martha Gellhorn went on to become a world renowned war journalist, reporting during World War II and beyond, from conflicts in Nicaragua to El Salvador and many more troubled places across the globe.

Paula McLain doesn’t suggest that her version of Martha Gellhorn’s story is THE story but rather ‘a blending of fact and fiction’. Her admiration for these strong historical women she chooses to write about is her inspiration in bringing these stories to her many readers.

‘I think it is important to say that my Gellhorn isn’t the Gellhorn, for how could she be? That woman is a mystery, the way we’re all mysteries, to our friends and family and loved ones, and even to ourselves. And yet the woman I discovered, in trying deeply to understand her, I couldn’t admire more. Whatever her flaws, she was incandescent, a true original, and I won’t ever forget her’ – Paula McLain

Love & Ruin is a truly compelling tale about a remarkable woman. Martha Gellhorn’s strength of character, her bravery and her pure determination is clearly depicted throughout. Paula McLain writes with a great passion, captivating the reader and transporting them back in history on a very exciting journey indeed. I eagerly await the next book…..

(c) Swirl and Thread

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