REVIEW: Love & Ruin, Paula McLain #BLOGTOUR

Thursday, 7 June 2018

In 1937, twenty-eight-year-old Martha travels alone to Madrid to report on the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War and becomes drawn to the stories of ordinary people caught in devastating conflict. She also finds herself unexpectedly—and uncontrollably—falling in love with Hemingway, a man already on his way to becoming a legend. In the shadow of the impending Second World War, and set against the tumultuous backdrops of Madrid, Finland, China, Key West, and especially Cuba, where Martha and Ernest make their home, their relationship and professional careers ignite. But when Ernest publishes the biggest literary success of his career, For Whom the Bell Tolls, they are no longer equals, and Martha must make a choice: surrender to the confining demands of being a famous man's wife or risk losing Ernest by forging a path as her own woman and writer. It is a dilemma that will force her to break his heart, and her own.

To be honest, before reading this book, I didn't know a lot about the personal life of Ernest Hemingway. I had heard of his books of course, but when it comes to celebrity relationships of the past, the ones of authors (even the great ones) seem to be off my radar. For instance, did you know that he was married four times?! I certainly didn't. Martha Gellhorn was the third - a tall blonde with as much passion for writing as her future husband. This is the person who Paula McLain chose as the point of view protagonist of her book, Love & Ruin, and for that I am overjoyed - Martha, who would go on to be one of the greatest war correspondents of the twentieth century, is an endlessly fascinating figure; a romantic, with an endless desire to capture the world and the human experience, and a penchant for making bad decisions.
Starting an affair with a married man, for instance.
She is nowhere close to perfect - she is human, irrevocably so, in a way that McLain manages to effortlessly draw.
Even though I loved the details of Martha's trials and failures on her way to becoming both a novelist and journalist, and the journeys that she went on to get there, I struggled with the beginning of this book. Martha is listless, a shadow of her former self after the death of her father, failure of a romance with yet another married man, and poor reaction to her latest book - there's a LOT of backstory that McLain needed to cover to turn Martha into a well-rounded protagonist, and I think even Ernest Hemingway himself wouldn't have been able to avoid it feeling like an info-dump. And though her meeting with Hemingway brings spark and excitement, I did not feel her truly come back into her own until she went to war, which is where, in my opinion, the novel really found its stride.
I think my life is so different from theirs that I had a little difficulty connecting with the initial premise - that she met Ernest Hemingway, one of the greatest novelists of the twentieth century in a random bar (which is true) and that, after meeting her a few times he insisted that she followed him to war-torn Spain (which, again, is also true). It is the spontaneity; how easily she was able to drop everything and be like, "why the hell not?".
It was exciting, sure, but there was also a sense of distance between my reading experience and their lives, because of the incredulity that I felt towards the characters' easy decisions.
I think, when it comes to capturing the first moments of Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn's love story, there is a certain degree of difficulty thanks to the public knowing the bare bones of the tale - which just leaves McLain to fill in the blanks. Sounds easy, right? Initially it seems so, but with the multitude of ways to interpret the two's infamous first meeting in a Key West bar (and everyone's conflicting opinions about what really happened), the book seemed to struggle.
Although as the relationship intensified and the political situation most of the world's major countries worsened, Love & Ruin really began to excel; it made up for the shaky beginning over and over again in its insights into the many wars that the couple (and often Martha Gellhorn on her own) raced to experience in all of their vivid, human heartbreak. And, because they were journalists and therefore attempting to be simply objective observers, they seemed like an odd point of clarity removed from the chaos of war. It is an incredibly interesting perspective on the affects of war in the streets of the cities - the small moments of light in the lives of the people that are just trying to continue on, as well as the horrific ricocheting affects that war can have on them.
Overall, I found Love & Ruin (despite its iffy start) to be an endlessly fascinating, and actually kind of exciting, read - and through it, I found out more on the battles of the early twentieth century and why none of Ernest Hemingway's wives never stayed married to him for very long.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to William Upcott, Little, Brown Book Group and Fleet for sending me a copy of this book in exchange of an honest review. And for allowing me to partake in this blog tour (I love you)

Head on over to for this book, as well as all of the others featured in my reviews, complete with the added bonuses of free worldwide shipping and bringing a little joy to my life.

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