Earnest Hemingway lived a rollicking life of impossible glamour and danger and gung ho bravado! Blessed with amazing good looks as well as of course an incredible talent for writing. No wonder he continues to fascinate as he seems, along with his famous set containing the likes of the Fitzgerald’s, to epitomize the glamour and madness of the twenties.
His appetite for women was enormous and it seemed he could not live without a great passion which he owned, by making the object of it, his wife. Even with the swathe of heartbreak he cut through the lives of all these women, they continued to love him.
He lived in the most iconically glamorous places, whether they were because of him or in spite of him, I don’t know, but they were all glamorous for him being there.
This book captures all this through the medium of the stories of his four wives, all of whom seemed to ride the roller-coaster that was him until they fell off. It is interesting that the women were friends despite the hurt of betrayal that they suffered through him. His larger than life character being shown through their eyes.
I found the constant changes in the time line very interrupting to the narrative and also find that I do not like the prescient style in which it is written. I know it is meant to make you feel like you are there through the conversation but this does for me spoil the flow of the story.
The description of the places they lived through particularly Florida are wonderfully evocative. The book ends with his suicide in Idaho but this is not over explored. It’s an insight in to the lives his wives lived with him.
I don’t think it’s possible to identify with such a different set of characters as they are real people. I could not understand how they could forgive the many betrayals he visited upon them, particularly Hadley who seemed to have supported each new wife through the hard times.
It was a very interesting depiction of a real – life story. I was not aware he had married four times and it was also interesting to learn about the women.
I found it a bit bleak but very interesting.
Reviewer: Janet J
The story is about Hemingway’s four wives – Hadley (Hash) Richardson, Pauline Pfeiffer (Fife), Martha Gellhorn (Rabbit) and Mary Welsh (Pickle)
I think it tries to weave a story around the ‘menage a trois’ which links the wives because it is important to the plot that Hemingway meets and develops a relationship with the next Mrs Hemingway before the previous Mrs Hemingway is destined to become history. It’s a bit like Princess Diane’s comment ‘there were three in the marriage which made it a bit difficult’ – maybe that’s where the idea came from who knows!!
The author was very good at cataloguing the time and place just through the chapter headings, particularly of people who appear to be constantly on the move in a period of time which was almost suffocating. Hemingway was a genius with words but he was also a womaniser, a drunk, a bon viveur and was equally loved men and women. An interesting and much travelled writer, who is hard to be defined by his wives – who were all American – or by his connections. One of the quotes in the book, I think attributed to Gellhorn was ‘Ernest doesn’t need a wife, he needs a mother’
I felt sorry for Mary Welsh, who had married Hemingway after the return from war, she was with him for fifteen years mainly at Ketchum, Idaho (where he died in 1961) and had to deal not only with her loss ( whether it was accident that killed Hemingway or design) but also with all the debris of an old man’s death. In the end she just threw papers and the past away.
I enjoyed learning about the people in Hemingway’s life.
Passage from the book that stood out – ‘as soon as they begin their climb the concierge forgets his nerves and won’t stop talking’. He describes again to Martha what she had already heard: the legend of Monsieur Hemingway during the recovery of the city, afterwards one barman asked Monsieur Hemingway what he would like to toast our freedom and he replied ‘my usual Benjamin! It took Benjamin an hour to make all the martinis, but we were all so happy.
I was totally indifferent to the book. The people in Hemingway’s life e.g. Scott and Yelda Fitzgerald, Sona and Gerald Murphy, Harry, Martha were like flies swotted on a page. Really the menage a trois which, in the book summons the ‘almost plot’ seems a bit trite when really Hemingway is the man of action WWI (Italy) Spain (Civil War), bull fights, WW2 (France), Cuba (sailing/swimming) and in-between all that his writing
I did not know Hemingway won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Reviewer: Eric S
I found I was rooting for the women because the guy was a user with no moral code.
The passage that stood out was the description of the times they moved on today seems an ideal.
People like these live in a different world, rags to riches and back.
Did learn something? Women stick together a lot more than men.
The ex-wives got in touch with each other to listen and help because they were all in the same boat.
Reviewer: Su R
The story of life with Ernest Hemingway as (fictionally) told by his four wives. Beautifully written, the telling of the wives tales far outclasses anything else in this book for me. I wasn’t interested in the story line but was lured along by the elegant prose from start to finish. There are always three people in Hemingway’s relationship – the incoming wife along with the current, but outgoing one. Hadley and Mary are the first and last wives and the most likable, though Fife and Martha supported him during his most prodigious time of writing- his fertile years as an author.
I was guided along seamlessly (if reluctantly) from one wife to another!
Reviewer: Margaret S
I didn't really like any of the characters. I felt annoyed with Hadley ( wife no.1) for putting up with the behaviour of Hemingway and Fife. I didn't know that Hemingway had so many wives, in fact I didn't know much about him at all.
The story is about Alex Graham and his mum and dad plus his hamster Jaws, Jaws 2 and Rickey.
Ales is poorly but manages to go to school most of the time, have friends, enjoy the lessons and keep up with his parents’ marriage.
Chloe Gower is a very independent girl who judges Alex’s problem parents with her own who have separated some time before. Is it a like for like match in reality or is this the only way Alex can explain the issues which are manifesting themselves at home?
When Chloe explains why she is going to Hong Kong it was so straight forward that in her head she was only going up the road.
After all Alex includes in is composition it didn’t seem possible that he had not passed the exam – but – when the letter which was part of his response to the exam was available to read all was clear, as it was for me as a reader. Should the individual be told the truth about an illness or not?
The book tried to be all things to all men – it attempted humour, arrogance of the young (ignoring the arrogance of the grown-ups) expertise in English composition, the sickness and filtering of an autistic (was Alex autistic?) boy who I think was suffering from terminal cancer. Some of this may be right, but as a reader who had to work hard, I don’t know.
It tells the tale off Maud whose sister goes missing just after the Second World War. The body is never found and the loss is never explained – until sixty years later when Maud’s daughter Helen gets so frustrated that she digs up the garden of Maud’s friend Elizabeth.
The novel intricately weaves the story of love, loss and family, history as well as the world we know today. From a time when most families had a lodger (Douglas) the new houses in being built in town, the spivs who pushed the black market to avoid rationing (Frank), the use of ration books to eke out the meagre food – a good person like Maud’s mum using the ration book of someone who was dead and the horror Maud’s father felt when he found out!!
The novel is set with lots of rain, puddle and wet clothes, whether it’s her mother in the park or with Frank in the car or sploshing back home after going out for a family meal with Tom, Helen etc. Maud is often up to her ears in water, mud and damp clothes through seventy years.
The story is in a state of constant change – but in the end stay the same because to Maud ‘Elizabeth is missing’ I’m sure the authors grandmothers, Vera Healy and Nancy Rowland are very proud of the author. It held my interest an even mention Atlee!
The book made me realise how the loss of real people effect those around them. The loss most dominant in the novel is that of Maud as her mind wanders away and she recognises neither her daughter or granddaughter, then the sudden loss of Sukie and the constant search by her mum and dad, the loss of Elizabeth top a stroke, the loss of Frank’s mother (the mad woman) through the death of her daughter when the bus ran her over, the loss of Frank’s father to the war, the loss continuity in life, the snails journey across the path, linking selves with very ordinary but very extraordinary - but that is life to everyone.
The novel is describing normal day to day events, yet there is always an underlying menace about the way the mind operates. When Maud is looking for a jumper and has been taken shopping by Katy and Helen to get one ‘I can’t understand why it is so difficult to find a normal jumper’ how true!!
The novel is a bit like Wilkie Collins – Woman in White – menace in the air even though we talk about normal things
Reviewer: Margaret H
The central character of the book, Maud, is suffering from dementia which gets more pronounced as the story unfolds. In her youth, she lost her sister Sukey, who was married to a suspicious character, Frank. Sukey was also loved by Maud’s’ family lodger Douglas. Her disappearance and suspected murder has dogged Maud’s whole life. In her later years and her dementia, she confuses the disappearance of her friend Elizabeth, with the disappearance of Suky. After building the tension so nicely, it is a disappointing anti-climax to find that Elizabeth is in hospital very ill, rather than done away with for her money by her unpleasant son.
However before Elizabeth went away, Maud’s obsession with digging and collecting odd bits of snails and leaves (all of which have bearing on the final unravelling of Sukey’s disappearance) leads to the discovery of a compact in the garden of Elizabeth’s house which belonged to Sukey.
All through the novel, all the clues are there, just waiting to be put together. But the barrier is Maud’s dementia, which although she is right, leads to her being patronised, chastised, undermined and ignored. When her daughter Helen finally gets it and in all or nothing gamble, finally finds Sukey’s murdered body in Elizabeth’s garden the mystery is unravelled. Frank has killed her. Observed by another woman, also mentally disturbed, therefore ignored.
Living inside Maud’s dementia, as the novel does, is quite claustrophobically mad! There is a sense of suffocation, as when you are trying to explain something or talk to someone who is simply not listening and keeps talking over you. It is a very believable depiction of dementia and the distance it creates between the sufferer and her family, friends etc.
Ultimately, satisfaction at the conclusion is robbed away because although Maud has found her beloved sister she is unable to take comfort and a sense of justice being done from it because of her dementia.
It was an excellent insight into the manifestation of dementia and a good depiction of the baffled confusion that besets the sufferer. One of the saddest moments was Helen crying at the bus shelter and Maud unable to recognise her. She tries to comfort her as a stranger.
Reviewer: Su R
Maud has dementia and is mixed up, troubled and forgetful. But she is convinced her friend Elizabeth is missing. She advertises in the papers for anyone who has seen Elizabeth and constantly seeks her at home.
Eventually it become clear she has mixed her up with the disappearance of her sister Sukey, who went missing 70 years earlier. Elizabeth is actually in a rehabilitant unit following a stroke.
Didn’t warm to any of the characters found the book slow and fairly boring, not my kind of mystery and I guessed it early on!
I found it hard going, my mind just kept wandering, probably because it’s such a difficult subject (dementia & murder) to deal with.
Reviewer: Margaret S
The main character in this book is Maud, an elderly woman with some form of dementia. The story alternates between Maud’d childhood memories which are mainly Sukey her sister who went missing never to be found and Maud’s current life which is totally chaotic because of her dementia.
Throughout most of the book Maud lives independently with the help of her daughter Helen and paid carers.
She is obsessed with her friend Elizabeth, who no longer is in her own home, believing that something has happened to her, just as it did with Sukey.
I didn’t initially like this book at first but it grew on me as I continued to read.
I can identify with Maud and her daughter Helen, having some experience myself with dealing with parents suffering with dementia
I think I felt some empathy with Maud and I wanted to know what happened to both Sukey and Elizabeth.
This is the author’s first novel and I was very good as a first.