Love and Ruin – Paula McLain

“I snapped a blank page into the roller, sending a sharp report echoing through the house. The page was snowy white. It still held all of its secrets. There was nothing to do but begin.”

I have a soft spot for historical fiction that focuses on the life of a real person (as opposed to those that create characters around a specific event in history.) It gives me a chance to read and research their lives even further and in a way extend the story -for me- past the end of the novel. Martha Gellhorn was an amazing, ambitious woman that will stick with me for quite some time, and Paula McLain did an incredible job bringing her story to life.

Love and Ruin begins with a failed assassination attempt on the life of General Francisco Franco; a subtle nod to fate and perhaps how different the world, or Gellhorn’s life, would have been if that assassination attempt was successful. Franco would go on in the next year to rise to power during the Spanish Civil War and Gellhorn and Hemingway would start their affair in Spain, covering this dispute.

Amidst the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War and then WWII, Gellhorn is struggling to make a name for herself as a writer and journalist in a predominantly male dominated field. Her relationship with Hemingway both helps and hinders her efforts. She takes advantage of his knowledge and connections to gain access to parts of the conflict in Spain other journalists (especially women) would never get to see. But in the end, however, she resented how critics and the public would compare her work to that of her husband’s instead of judging her for her own merit.

It was difficult not to dislike Hemingway throughout the novel and I actually greatly preferred the sections of Gellhorn’s life where she was traveling on her own, covering the war overseas. As a war correspondent she risked her life countless times as she traveled from Spain to Finland to China to France and even the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.  She was an absolutely incredible woman and it was heartbreaking to read how the success of her career was directly correlated to the slow deterioration of her marriage. And although it was immensely unfair, she consistently chose to go where she thought she was needed at the expense of her personal life.

“Why is it that a man can do his work and just get on with it, but a woman has to drop everything for her place at home or else she’s selfish?”

I have read my fair share of WWII historical fiction but I am by no means a scholar of the era so I hate to admit I had not heard of Martha Gellhorn before hearing about this novel. I loved meeting her in Love and Ruin and reading about this part of her life. As always, McLain pulled me into history and made me feel like I was traveling the world right alongside this fascinating woman.

Thank you to Goodreads for early access to this novel which was released on May 1, 2018.



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