Today, I thought I would review Naomi Wood’s ‘Mrs Hemingway’, a fantastic book about the wives of the famous author Ernest Hemingway.
Each section of this book is narrated from the perspective of a different wife of Ernest Hemingway– and following a different part of the life of Hemingway himself. I thought the best way to review this book would be to talk about each wife separately.
Hadley- Wife Number 1- The novel begins with the story of Hadley, Ernest’s first wife and a woman who clearly meant a lot to him. Hadley and Ernest were seen as the ultimate power couple but, as becomes clear through the first section of the novel, Hadley is much more reserved than Ernest, and in the world of parties during the 1920s, she is soon forgotten to some extent by her husband, in favour of younger, more lively women.
Hadley seemed like a genuinely nice person but, like with Ernest’s other wives, clearly she loved him too much, with this love meaning she was forced to turn a blind eye to all his affairs.
I thought it was really interesting how Hadley invited Ernest’s latest mistress, Pauline, to spend their holiday together, and clearly she knew how to test Ernest, showing her great understanding of her husband. Something I loved about this book was the clear amount of research that Wood had put into the novel, and the fact that I knew the things that were happening were real made them all the more interesting.
Personally, I love it when authors use non-fiction events from history, and make them into fiction novels, as it makes the information much more interesting, and means that the author can actually understand the thoughts and feelings of the figures, rather than simply reading the fact in a history book!
Pauline Pfeiffer- Wife Number 2– I thought Pauline was a bit annoying to be honest, and, if I’m honest, the only wife I really loved was Martha. I think the fact that the others let Ernest get away with anything because of their love for him made them seem slightly weaker, but overall I did like all of them! And I can see that when you love someone that much, perhaps you are willing to let them treat you badly in order to keep them.
I loved the sections about Pauline with regards to the parties, and the descriptions of parties involving famous faces such as F. Scott Fitzgerald made this section of the book so exciting. The roaring twenties is also such an interesting, vibrant time, and I thought Wood captured the excellence of the era perfectly.
The fact that the reader reads about other really famous authors through the eyes of Ernest and his various wives was really interesting, and you can see the famous Fitzgerald, for example, through the lens of someone around at the time. I really liked the passages where Wood described Pauline’s dresses as well- and Pauline’s feather dress sounded amazing.
The thing that I didn’t like about Pauline was her clear desperation for Ernest. Clearly this man was very likeable, and very charming towards women, but the fact that she basically let him ruin her made me sad, and I thought originally that Pauline might have been a bit stronger than that.
Ultimately, like his other wives, Pauline clearly felt she would rather live with Ernest as a cheater, than without him. I also thought the way Pauline’s story ended was sad, and I felt really sorry for her during the book.
Martha- Wife Number 3- I really liked Martha, and I thought she was the strongest of the four, and she was the most interesting, in my opinion, although all sections of the novel were interesting! Martha was a famous travel writer, and so she, unlike the other wives to some extent, was famous in her own right, as well as being famous for being Mrs Hemingway.
I thought her character appeared much stronger than the others to some extent, and I loved the way that she played Ernest at his own game, and clearly he under-estimated her own independence, with Martha not being like the other wives in that she would not give Ernest his own way all the time, and she knew her own mind much more. The only trouble with Martha’s section was that it was shorter than the others, but I guess that’s because she wasn’t married to Ernest as long!
Mary- Wife Number 4- Mary seemed really sweet, and it seemed that Ernest was a nicer person with her, perhaps because he was older than with the other wives. I thought this was a very heartfelt and interesting section, and I found out a lot about the final years of Ernest Hemingway as well. I really liked how there were certain historical references- such as Hemingway writing something for Kennedy, for example.
For a history nerd, the mixture of fiction with historical fact really made me stay engaged in the novel. Wood really made these women come alive.
I really enjoyed reading this book. For me, my favourite thing was the great amount of research that had clearly gone into this book (I bet it was fun to explore all of Hemingway’s haunts in Paris) and the fact that this book really made the women in Hemingway’s life come alive.
Before reading this book I knew nothing of Hemingway’s life or his wives (I never even realised he had married 4 times) but this book was both informative and really interesting, as well as included vibrant, exciting imagery of the roaring twenties. The fact that the book covered some of my favourite periods in history also made it enjoyable.
The only thing I would say that annoyed me about this book was Hemingway. Maybe it’s bad to say it, but he emerged in my mind as a ‘tortured genius’ that took himself too seriously, and he mistreated his wives to a great extent. However, there were other sides to him that Wood tried to bring out, particularly in the last section from Mary’s point of view, where he appeared as much more gentle.
What did you think of my review of ‘Mrs Hemingway’ by Naomi Wood? Would you consider trying this book? Do you know anything about Ernest Hemingway?
Let me know all your thoughts in the comments below 🙂
Happy reading x
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