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Love and Ruin


Love and Ruin

In 1936, at the age of 27, Martha “Marty” Gellhorn is at a crossroads. Drawn to Europe by her unquenchable wanderlust, she earnestly pursues her writing career. But with some journalistic experience and a published (badly reviewed) novel to her credit, her ambition has yet to find a focus, much less notoriety amongst her peers. Much to the dismay of her parents, her personal life is littered with affairs with married men, and she finds herself being propelled forward by restlessness rather than a bona fide direction.

Until she meets Ernest Hemingway on a family holiday in Florida. Already on his second marriage, but a respected and well-connected author, Hemingway is eager to get to Spain and report on the Spanish Civil War from the battlefield. Inspired by his passion and in awe of meeting her literary hero, Marty decides to join the fray, wrangling press credentials and making the harrowing journey across the world. And in the war-torn countryside, her paradigm-shifting trip is shaped by the sheer gravity of the war, the brave souls she meets at the front lines, and the forged friendships with her fellow journalists. But most notably, her romantic destiny collides with Ernest’s in a way that would change the trajectory of her life.

"LOVE AND RUIN is expertly written with well-timed pacing, wonderful descriptions, and themes that will inspire and stay with you long after the final page has been turned."

Split into six parts and spanning over eight years, LOVE AND RUIN chronicles the life of acclaimed war correspondent Martha Gellhorn and her tumultuous romance with Ernest Hemingway. Set against the volatile world stage of the Spanish Civil War and World War II, it is a beautiful blend of fiction and fact. Paula McLain manages to cover a complicated timeline of events over the course of the novel, conveying the pertinent points without bogging the reader down with a litany of unnecessary facts. Even more of a feat, she casts light on the life of a woman --- flaws, triumphs and everything in between --- that shaped the historical narrative as we know it.

Much of the book centers on Marty’s relationship with Ernest, but I was drawn in by the romance of a journalist with a story to tell. Seeing this time in history through the lens of Marty’s journalistic eye gave me an entirely different, somewhat nostalgic perspective on the print media of the past. She put her life at risk to tell these accounts of war because she believed that the right words put into the hands of the average American had the power to shake them awake to the tragedies happening on far-off shores and change things for the better. And though she loved Ernest deeply, nothing could deter her from pursuing this calling.

Readers are taken through Marty and Ernest’s love story in different settings: the passionate beginning in war-ravaged Spain, their home base in humid and tranquil Cuba, and the hustle and bustle of the New York writing scene --- and each place is tangibly felt. A few chapters with Ernest’s point of view are interspersed throughout the book, a welcome look into the man behind the literary genius. This approach to the storytelling is a stroke of brilliance and adds a layer of insight into their romance that would be lacking otherwise.

McLain, whose debut novel THE PARIS WIFE focused on Ernest’s first marriage to Hadley Richardson, is a clear leader in the historical fiction genre. If I had one criticism of LOVE AND RUIN, it would concern the character development. Overall, I often felt that the emotions and romantic tension in the book were told rather than felt. And in a few cases, the revealing of Marty’s character seemed fragmented with references that appeared to come out of nowhere.

However, though the story is set over 80 years ago, the themes explored are just as relevant today as they were back then: Martha Gellhorn is a woman finding her voice and place in the world, despite the obstacles. And when faced with the choice of burying her head in the proverbial sand or staying engaged with the world at large, she’s an inspiration to face life head on, despite its challenges and atrocities, with courage, fortitude and --- even more impressively --- an open heart.

With prose as rich and complex as the historical landscape McLain covers, the past comes alive in her latest novel. LOVE AND RUIN is expertly written with well-timed pacing, wonderful descriptions, and themes that will inspire and stay with you long after the final page has been turned.

Reviewed by Amy Haddock on May 1, 2018

Love and Ruin
by Paula McLain