The book focuses on the beginnings and ends of Hemingway's four grand amours, with each of the four wives having their own section. Basing the book around these four women, rather than on the author himself, makes for an interesting perspective. Through jumps in time, both forwards and backwards, we see glimpses of the complexities of each of their relationships with Ernest.
The book begins with Hadley, the first wife, in a wonderful South of France setting, with a villa, endless sunshine, cocktail hour and sea swimming. It seems like the perfect paradise for Mr and Mrs Hemingway. Except Mr Hemingway's lover is also on holiday with them. At Mrs Hemingway's invitation! You can see where it all starts to backfire, but knowing what the outcome will be doesn't make reading the book any less enjoyable, I found that it led me to enjoy the writing more and be less impatient to skip ahead.
I didn't feel any sympathy or warmth towards Ernest; he must have been very magnetic for all of those women to ignore his major personality traits! I've seen photographs of him as a very young man, 'dashing' would be my description. I did empathise with the wives to some degree, but still found myself incredulous at what they all put up with. I suppose that's my modern mindset looking back on different times.
Whilst a work of fiction, Wood has painstakingly researched all of her characters, major and minor, and I got the impression that nothing in this narrative was beyond the realms of reality. It's a 'best guess' of what being a Mrs Hemingway was like. A well written book, I was surprised at how coherent a story it was, flowing well despite really being four overlapping stories, set across different decades and different countries. I can't comment on historical accuracy with my limited knowledge of the subject, but the story rang true and I enjoyed some of Wood's descriptions.
I can see this being a good beach read if you're a history-lover off on holiday soon! Or you could perhaps take some Hemingway?
'Mrs Hemingway' by Naomi Wood is out now from Picador. I was sent a copy of the book for review, but as always, my views are my own!