From New York Times bestselling author Meg Waite Clayton comes a riveting novel based on one of the most volatile and intoxicating real-life love affairs of the twentieth century.
Key West, 1936. Headstrong, accomplished journalist Martha Gellhorn is confident with words but less so with men when she meets disheveled literary titan Ernest Hemingway in a dive bar. Their friendship—forged over writing, talk, and family dinners—flourishes into something undeniable in Madrid while they’re covering the Spanish Civil War.
Martha reveres him. The very married Hemingway is taken with Martha—her beauty, her ambition, and her fearless spirit. And as Hemingway tells her, the most powerful love stories are always set against the fury of war. The risks are so much greater. They’re made for each other.
With their romance unfolding as they travel the globe, Martha establishes herself as one of the world’s foremost war correspondents, and Hemingway begins the novel that will win him the Nobel Prize for Literature. Beautiful Exiles is a stirring story of lovers and rivals, of the breathless attraction to power and fame, and of one woman—ahead of her time—claiming her own identity from the wreckage of love.
Meg Waite Clayton is a New York Times bestselling author of 8 novels, most recently the international bestseller THE POSTMISTRESS OF PARIS, which is a Good Morning America Buzz pick, New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, Costco Book Club pick, People Magazine, IndieNext booksellers, LoanStars librarians, USA Today, Book of the Month Club and Amazon Editors’ pick and Publishers Weekly notable book the San Francisco Chronicle calls "gripping … an evocative love story layered with heroism and intrigue — the film ‘Casablanca’ if Rick had an artsy bent … powerful.”
Her prior books include the international bestseller and National Jewish Book Award finalist THE LAST TRAIN TO LONDON, the #1 Amazon fiction bestseller BEAUTIFUL EXILES, the Langum-Prize honored national bestseller THE RACE FOR PARIS- and THE WEDNESDAY SISTERS, one of Entertainment Weekly's "25 Essential Best Friend Novels" of all time. Her THE LANGUAGE OF LIGHT was a finalist for the Bellwether Prize (now PEN/Bellwether Prize). Her novels have been published in 23 languages.
She has also written more than 100 pieces for major newspapers, magazines, and public radio. She has participated in the Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman sponsored The Writers Lab for screenwriting, mentors in the OpEd Project, and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle and the California bar. megwaiteclayton.com
As Marta Gellhorn writes in an August 1940 letter to Charles Scribner, in explanation for why she is turning down his offer to pay her money in advance to write a book for him, “I could not do a book (a book, Charlie, think of the high pile of bare white paper that you have in front of you before there is even the beginning of a book), unless I believed awfully hard in it. Unless I wanted to do it so much that I could sweat through the dissatisfaction and weariness and failure and all the rest you have to sweat through.”
I’ve been mopping the sweat from this one for a long time. My hope for what began as one of those high piles of white paper is that it will introduce others to the truly extraordinary Martha Gellhorn, and let readers who already know her get to know her better.
The Reader’s Digest condensed version of the story that made me want to write this book would go something like this: Journalist Martha Gellhorn, denied an official opportunity to go across with the D-Day landing ships because she was female, hid in the loo of the first hospital ship to cross the channel and went ashore with a stretcher crew to cover the landing brilliantly for Collier’s. As reward for her bravery, she was ... taken into custody, stripped of her press credential, and confined to a nurses’ training camp. But Marty, being Marty, hopped the fence and hitched a ride on a plane headed to Italy, where she continued do some of the best reporting to come out of the war even without her credential or any official support.
Really, how can you not want to know more about how Marty became Marty?
Through more than a decade of reading Marty's own writing and the writing about her, visiting places she went and trying to imagine being her, I discovered, among other things, that that first version of the D-Day story was a bit of an exaggeration: She didn’t hop that fence. She rolled under it.
And she had been the lead correspondent for Collier’s until a man snagged the position from her. That man was ... her husband, Ernest Hemingway.
I love strong women.
I love to learn about great writers like Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn, because I learn so much about how to write from reading about how they did it.
And I love a great love story, especially great love that is complicated and volatile. I hope you do too.
I read LOVE AND RUIN by Paula McLain a couple of month's ago. That didn't stop me from wanting to read this book. I'm a big fan of biographical fiction and enjoy reading different versions of famous love stories. So, I was all game for another take on the Ernest Hemingway & Martha Gellhorn romance. And, I'm pleased to say that I enjoyed this book immensely.
This time did I have much more knowledge about Hemingway & Gellhorn thanks to McLain's book. However, I loved to once again read about this talented couple that and their doomed relationship. Loved the writing and the dialogue. Gellhorn was such a strong woman that she just couldn't submit herself to a relationship where she was the staying home wife. She wanted to be a war correspondent and in the end, did she choose the path right for her. I find her to be such a strong and inspiring woman. To dare to want the star and not letting anyone stop her. Hemingway may have been a brilliant writer, but he didn't score high on the husband part. At least not in his marriage to Martha Gellhorn. And, honestly, a man that has already left one wife for another woman, well the odds that he would do that again are high...
BEAUTIFUL EXILES is a perfect book for historical/biographical history fans. I'm eager to read more by Meg Waite Clayton.
I want to thank Lake Union Publishing for providing me with a free copy through NetGalley for an honest review!
It took me forever to read Beautiful Exiles. I wanted to like this book but the whole time I was physically pained by how horridly Hemingway treated Martha - this perhaps attests to the Clayton’s skill in portraying Martha in the first person, but nonetheless it was difficult to read. The best parts of the book were when Martha was alone on assignment because she was authentically herself and able to pursue her passion for journalism. The writing is excellent, so I would recommend this to someone who wants a book that will make them feel as angry as if Martha was a personal friend, but it just wasn’t for me.
I first read about Martha Gelhorn in the notes from this author's book Race for Paris. I was intrigued with her bravery and her goal to be one of the first women writers in France after the Normandy invasion. She was a feminist before her time. Reading this book made me want to learn more about her and her life after WWII and I found her to be a very interesting woman. Thanks to Meg Waite Clayton for her deep research into a small time period of this interesting woman's life.
Martha Gelhorn first met Ernest Hemingway in a bar in Key West in 1936. They became friends and traveled to Spain together to cover the Spanish Civil War. I was amazed at how close they got to the fighting in the war, often sharing a fox hole with soldiers to avoid bombs. It was a gritty and exciting time for both of them and they soon became more than friends even though he was still married. As they traveled around the world together looking for more excitement - Spain, Italy, China and Cuba, their love for each other grew as much as their dislike for each other. Hemingway admired her for her bravery but wanted to keep her in a little box as his wife without realizing that she would lose what first attracted him to her. She wanted to live life to the fullest and not be tied down to being a wife. With these two opposing views, it's amazing that they stayed together as long as they did.
I enjoyed this look at Martha Gelhorn's life - both personal and professional. She was brave and caring and influenced many people with her reporting. Thanks to the author for this intimate portrait.
Thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book to read and review. All opinions are my own.
I’m going to be honest and say Ernest Hemingway is a historical figure I know very little about. In fact, I’m someone who has never read an Ernest Hemingway novel. I keep telling myself I will, but I always find something else to read instead. I will have to change that, at some point, if only to end my curiosity, but for now I was more than willing to give Meg Waite Clayton’s Beautiful Exiles a read. Although this is not a book about Ernest Hemingway in the usual sense of books about the figure, it was a different perspective that did enlighten me about the man.
As I’ve stated, my knowledge about Ernest Hemingway is extremely limited. This means my knowledge about those connected to him is also limited – even more so, actually. Due to this, I cannot say how much of this book is fact and how much is poetic licence. However, I can say this was an interesting read.
Well written, this book had me curious to see what snippet of information we would receive next. I had some notions of where certain things would go – due to the small snippets of knowledge I had – but for the most part, this book was eye opening for me. It certainly left me even more curious about the historical figures within – and I’m not simply speaking about Ernest Hemingway.
There is no doubt in my mind that Meg Waite Clayton has a way of bringing history to life, and Beautiful Exiles has certainly left me interested in digging deeper into the history of the characters in this novel.
I wanted to be sure to get a review in ofBeautiful Exiles for those wanting a comparison with Paula McLain's Love and Ruin. I enjoyed reading Beautiful Exiles and hope to read more by Meg Waite Clayton. I thought that she did a good job of capturing Hemingway and the lingo of the era.
I like her representation of Martha Gelhorn as a writer and a person. She was funny, brave and daring. She didn't back down from what she believed in. She admired Hemingway from the first and moved from being a friend, to a lover, to a wife.
It was clear to me that Waite Clayton, did her homework and researched the book extensively. The book solely focuses on Gelhorn's life with Hemingway, from when they first met to when they divorced.
There were times, which I felt she went a bit into too much minutia. At those points it seemed to drag a bit. I appreciate that she wanted to clearly show what their lives were like, but some extra editing wouldn't have hurt.
Overall, I enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to reading Love and Ruin to see another take on Martha Gelhorn.
Not having been an English major in college, somehow I've gotten away without having read much of Ernest Hemingway. I believe I had to read The Sun Also Rises in high school, but I recall not enjoying it very much. Then again, it was twenty years ago, and maybe I was too young for it. I'm not entirely certain where I came across this novel, but now I'm rather annoyed I spent four days on it.
When you sit down to read this, it flies by rather quickly. But I didn't care for the format at all. Each chapter details a month in Martha Gellhorn's life, and having to write a chapter for every single month seems to lend almost too many details to the novel. It becomes quite unwieldy after a point. It also felt like a memoir in which the writer wants to name-drop as much as possible. I realize that Gellhorn moved in some exalted literary circles and was good personal friends with the Roosevelts, but at a point it just seemed as though Clayton wanted to pack as many famous people into her novel as possible.
I'm sure Clayton wants to show Hemingway as the narcisstic and self-absorbed abusive man that he was, but sometimes I feel as though Gellhorn's character was totally overshadowed by Hemingway's bad behavior. And when the novel is supposed to focus on Gellhorn and bring her achievements more to the fore, you'd think the lens would be more sharply on her. It was clear that while Hemingway may have loved her, he was more interested in women that will treat him like a god and stroke his ego. He wasn't much interested in the day-to-day life of being a married couple. And while that may very well have been how they spoke to one another in real life, the cutesy nicknames and what reads as baby talk between them really grated on my nerves.
I appreciate this novel for bringing Martha Gellhorn to my attention, and now I want to learn more about her. But I found myself more frustrated than anything reading this book.
I wanted to like this book. I wanted a book with a strong female character. She wasn’t portrayed as strong at all. I know that she’s not a character—Marty was a real person. But she didn’t feel real. She wasn’t that developed.
The writing was just all over the place. It felt like one person wrote the first half and another wrote the second half. At times the writing wouldn’t be descriptive and then the author would remember to be descriptive, so she’d add overly descriptive sections in the book. Overall, it wasn’t consistent. It was very tough to finish.
Ironic that a book told from the point of view of a remarkable journalist would - literally - bury the lede. Which is why I give it four stars, not five.
This book was a riveting read, and I found myself completely engrossed in the life of this fascinating woman I knew very little about. I have always hated the term "artist in her own right," and this is the reason why. Martha Gellhorn's accomplishments at least come close to matching Ernest Hemingway's, and unlike Hemingway who chose alcohol and suicide, she chose to continue living, writing and engaging with the world - as the foremost war correspondent of the 20th century, no less. But sadly, history remembers her more often as Hemingway's third wife.
Clayton smartly avoids depicting the relationship between the two famous talented, headstrong, alcohol-abusing individuals as black-and-white abuser/victim. So it is compelling to read about, even though it's one of those stories you go into knowing the ending. It's the getting to the inevitable train wreck that is full of drama, humor, pathos, and a lot of nasty, insufferable nicknames.
Unfortunately, the ending, set during some of the most compelling events in history, got short shrift and felt rushed. (Dachau, for instance, gets barely a sentence.) This was frustrating because I'd been waiting the entire book to read this chapter, only to be left wanting more.
But all in all, I enjoyed being swept up into the dangerous, dazzling world of 1930s intellectuals, writers and revolutionaries. Makes me ask the question, were women just really more badass in the 30s?
I really struggled with this book and ended up skim reading the second half to finish it since I didn’t want to not finish it. I really enjoy works the “Lost Generation” and enjoyed the honesty accompanied with who Hemingway was. Overall it was very enjoyable to read about those years of his life. My major issues came from the writing style. *Maybe these should be considered spoilers but if you picked up this book you likely know your Hemingway history so I don’t really think anything can be spoiled. 1) Making the book first person as Martha who is a real person was very difficult for me to read. The whole book read very much like Hemingway dialogue but was that who Gellhorn was or is she being shadowed by his personal traits? There was also A LOT of personal opinion and feelings that I’m not sure how the author could truly assign to a person she couldn’t have spoken to. This leads to my next point. 2) Martha is clearly besotted with Hemingway from day 1. She is lying to herself through the first quarter of the book that she just respects him as a writer and wants him to be some quasi-mentor. I think this really diminishes her as a person - was she really in that much self denial about being in love with him when she admitted to having a photo of him on her dorm wall? Gellhorn is a brave, smart woman and I don’t think painting her as that naive without knowing for a fact she felt that way is right. The author notes all the references she used so maybe it is possible to be able to infer these very personal thoughts and mannerisms buy I would have at least preferred the story written as third-person omniscient.
Not having known a great deal about Hemingway and nothing about Gellhorn, I found this book to be very informative. Martha Gellhorn's life starts out very slow but the pace rapidly increases as the wars of the world and the internal wars of Hemingway rapidly develop. As many great women of that era questioned their desire to be more than housewife and mother, the expectations of their day & the demand of the spouse, so too did Gellhorn grapple with this. Hemingway apparently was no exception to these expectations. He appeared to support Gellhorn's writing career, but within the confines of the role of wife & home. She craved a career as a writer & war correspondent but her career was always overshadowed by being Mrs H. & the confines of the day. As I read the book, I could not decide whether she really loved H. or whether she loved his love for the art of writing as she did. Did she love what he could do for her, the power of who he was, his fame or did she really love H, the man? She reluctantly gives & gives & gives of self until there is no more to give if she is to survive him. You will be introduced to love, hate, jealousy, infidelity, insecurity, manipulation, guilt, war, insanity, world travel, devastation and the famous people who all played a role in the tormented life of G. and H. This is a well researched novel. I highly recommend it.
This book was slow to start (possibly because I was received an electronic copy and had to get used to reading on my phone) but so enjoyable as you learned more about Martha and delved into her relationship with Hemingway. Martha quickly became my favorite Hemingway wife that I've read about. I didn't know what an established writer she was prior to reading this novel and oftentimes found myself frustrated with her throughout the book as she let Hemingway keep her from following her calling to travel and live life as a war reporter. It was so satisfying at the end to see her remember herself and make the final split.
My favorite quote from the book that I felt summed up their relationship/this story perfectly, "He was bad for me, or just wrong for me, and maybe it had never worked, or maybe it had worked in the beginning, and I was the one who’d changed. I didn’t want to break his heart, and I didn’t want to break my own heart either, but I couldn’t think of him anymore without the dread and the darkness. I needed to gather up what was left of myself and glue it back together with whatever sticking paste I could find, filling especially the cold, hollow dead spots, and I needed to try not to let it all get wet again until I was good and solid, and maybe not even then."
Thank you to Goodreads for providing me a copy of this book through a giveaway!
Thanks to Lake Union Publishing for sending me a free copy. Meg Waite Clayton’s novel about the relationship of journalist Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway is obviously well-researched. In her author’s note she describes the books, articles, letters etc. used to flesh out events and characters.
The book begins in 1936 when Gellhorn meets Hemingway. Over the course of their relationship they travel a good part of the world, witnessing and reporting on remarkable events. The two carry more emotional baggage than most couples and continue to add to it over the years. I guess my sympathies are with Gellhorn but she was not totally without responsibility in the fate of their marriage. I really don’t care for Hemingway – at least the way he’s always been portrayed. He clearly had his demons and they were usually on the front burner. In the end, they lived amazing lives and made me wonder who our modern-day Gellhorn and Hemingway are.
I recommend Beautiful Exiles to fans of the genre and Meg Waite Clayton. The reason I enjoy historical fiction is I usually learn new things about people or events – that was the case in this book.
I must admit right now that despite having been an avid reader my entire life and having visited Hemingway sites in Key West and Paris, and purchasing “A Movable Feast at Shakespeare and Company, I have not read a single Hemingway book. True confession! I have however read a number of fictional accounts of his life and loves, but have never really seen any glimmer of his appeal. Even a recent novel about Earnest and Martha left me with the single thought of “what could she possibly see in that jerk?” This novel just hit all the notes for me. Martha was talented, adventurous, beautiful and independent, but remained a too tall girl in dance class. Earnest? Still a jerk. But I could see how infatuated they were with each other and how their relationship worked for them. Until it didn’t. This novel worked on all levels for me. The history and locales were spot on and the author included many interactions with other characters that filled out Martha and Earnest and their relationship. If Ms. Clayton wants to take on all of Hemingway’s wives, I will eagerly await them. In the mean time I will be enjoying “A Moveable Feast” before my next trip to Paris!
Ok, admittedly, I knew not much about either Hemingway or Martha Gellhorn. I have read a Hemingway novel but that was the extent. I do however love historical fiction as well as non-fiction. It was a beautiful story the captured my heart and I was not even sure I wsgoing to like Gellhorn immediately. Clayton writes with eloquent fluidity and shares her ability to encompass all traits of both characters with the reader. I hope that this one day becomes a movie. It has nostalgia and is very easy to read and believe. I hope that Clayton has other books or writes more because I do not want this one to be the last one I read.
Thank you to netgalley as well as the author/publisher for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest review.
I recently listened to Love and Ruin by Paula McLain, and stumbled upon this book at the same time. I find it odd that two fairly prominent authors both released historical fiction books about the relationship between Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway a mere months apart. An online reading friend on PBT, Booknblues, suggested reading both and comparing them....so, here I am.
First off, I liked Love and Ruin better for one simple reason: McLain's writing is beautiful. Waite Clayton is a fine writer, but there is just something about McLain's words that draw me so completely into her stories and make me connect with the characters.
But, there were two things that I liked better about Beautiful Exiles. First, Waite Clayton does an excellent job of depicting Gellhorn's hesitation about marrying Hemingway. The way that she crafts the narrative of the relationship shows that it was strained from almost the beginning, but Gellhorn entered into it despite her reservations. McLain hinted at this, but McLain painted their relationship much more rosily up to when it really started to unravel not long after they were married.
Secondly, Waite Clayton had a prominent focus on Gellhorn's rumored—and admitted—disdain for sex with Hemingway. Really, her lack of enjoyment of sex with most men, though she tolerated it as a part of a relationship. McLain completely avoided this except for a few throw-away lines that basically discredited that. I am not sure if it is true, or perhaps something Gellhorn made up after the divorce to help mend her broken heart, but the two authors took different perspectives of it, and Waite Clayton's rang a bit truer.
All in all though, my slight preference for Love and Ruin came down to minor things, that all go back to the quality of writing. McLain depicted Hemingway's growing struggle with depression in a heart-wrenching way. She made me love and have sympathy for Hemingway even while despising him for the way he treated Gellhorn. She was more subtle about Gellhorn's swinging emotions about Hemingway and her marriage, and made me have more sympathy for her her. Finally, Waite Clayton's writing was a bit redundant in some parts. I swear I wanted to deduct one more star because she said SO MANY TIMES that Hemingway was "the kind of man who would rip your guts out and leave them in the street." Also, it was like Waite Clayton opened her thesaurus, was enamored by the new word she learned—scorfulous—and then proceeded to use it 17 times in the book.
My final comparison is that I preferred McLain's ending to Waite Clayton's. Waite Clayton ended the book with Hemingway's death, which I thought was a disservice to Gellhorn and her constant struggle to get out of the shadow of Hemingway.
Bottom line: You probably do not need to read both of these books as they tell the same story with the same major events (how can they not? They are based on real lives), but you really cannot go wrong with either!
This book made me want to read books and other writing by Martha Gellhorn. It also made me think—again, as it did when I read The Paris Wife by Paula McClain that Hemmingway must have been a very nasty person to be married to! He might have been a good / great writer, but not at all a nice person.
However, you might have thought that wife #3—Martha Gellhorn—might have had a clue before she married him, having some knowledge of how he treated wives #1 and #2.....
Update: Thinking about this review, I realized that I had fallen into the same trap as others. While this is a story of the love affair, marriage, and ultimate breakup of Martha and Ernest, I focused mostly on EH, which was not fair to Martha.
Both before, during, and after her time with Ernest, Martha was a talented and accomplished war correspondent who would (according to this book anyway) would do almost anything to get to the front lines as well as being a good author. However, everything about her was pushed aside during their time together because EH had both a huge shadow and even bigger ego. ~*~
This book was interesting; very much in the 'extrapolate from letters, articles, books, and so forth in order to compose the story of their life together' (for this book), but it was pretty good.
In this fast paced book, Waite Clayton gives us an honest picture of Gellhorn the war journalist and novelist and her paramour turned husband Ernest Hemingway. Starting out as a mentor/mentee relationship, the two become romantically involved and then married.
Written in first person from the POV of Gellhorn, I had the feeling that the author was channeling Gellhorn in all of aspects of her complicated personality; the need to have a partner, the need to be a solo operator, the need to have a family and the need to be in the middle of the action at all times. Gellhorn craved the drama of war the way some people crave a vacation on the beach. The conflicting needs of Gellhorn and Hemingway made for some fiery scenes.
I commend the author for taking on an iconic figure (Hemingway) and showing us sides of him that many might not have known or read about before. A beautiful portrait too of the insecurities and bravado that plague writers!
I'm embarrassed that I knew nothing about Martha Gellhorn. She desperately wanted to be known for her own work and in her own right but for the years they were together, she lived in Ernest Hemingway's shadow which is a bit how I felt reading Beautiful Exiles. I wanted Martha to cast him off and fly but the story doesn't go that far (it ends soon after their divorce; I don't think that's much of a spoiler--common knowledge he had four wives.) I suspect the rest of her life was equally if not more interesting than her drunken, fraught years with him. They were interesting years but we know he was a brilliant cad. I wanted *Martha's* story. Maybe I wanted something Meg Waite Clayton didn't which sometimes happens.
Summer of 2018 has witnessed the publishing of two novels about the relationship, affair and marriage of Martha Gellhorn to Ernest Hemingway. After reading "Love and Ruin" by Paula McClain, I was interested in seeing how Meg Waite Clayton would deal with the same material in "Beautiful Exiles". While I liked the McClain novel, it felt rather incomplete to me ... somehow the ending didn't work well. It was reading Clayton's novel that I discovered why the first book did not completely satisfy me ... Clayton was writing a novel about a woman in her late twenties who knew what she wanted, who knowingly made sacrifices and was selfish when she needed to be. In otherwords, Clayton's Martha Gellhorn was an adult, whereas McClain's Gellhorn was more of a young woman who kind of knew what she wanted, but had no clear ideas of how to get there.
Some of what makes Clayton's book so strong is that she was willing to delve into the complexity of two large egos who loved each other, but are unable to live together in harmony. Clayton's book is a far more accurate representation of their journey without the simplification that McClain's book uses. The only scandalous event that was left out of both books is that Gellhorn had a lover during WWII, before her divorce from Hemingway. Clayton writes about the strange journey that these two driven writers are on, and the short time that their paths go in the same direction.
I liked that Clayton left the edges on in her novel, showing how both of her protagonists were both drawn together and also repelled. And ultimately, the final betrayal by Hemingway of taking away Gellhorn's journalism job with "Colliers" is much better explained by Clayton. Instead of the simplified version of nasty betrayal, Clayton shows that the seeds of that betrayal was sown by Gellhorn herself. In an attempt to get Hemingway to Europe, Gellhorn suggests that Hemingway contact "Colliers", to be hired by them to cover the war ... thus re-creating their relationship during the Spanish War. Instead of wanting to work together again as journalists, Hemingway used his clout as a famous author and journalist to take over Gellhorn's position and to leave her with no journalism papers. The complexity works really well in the novel ... and I think McClain simplified their relationship too much which made her novel ultimately a little disappointing. While preferring "Beautiful Exiles", both authors did an excellent job of bringing these two major writers to life!
(Review refers to audio book version, narrated by Kirsten Potter)
I must confess that I kept putting off listening to this book, as I have read other books concerning Hemingway and was expecting this to be pretty similar, but once I actually began listening the reality was quite different. Told from Gellhorn's perspective, Kirsten Potter's narration really brings the story to life. We get a flavour of what it is to be a writer, something which initially brings Gellhorn and Hemingway together, reporting on the Spanish Civil War. But then later their different approaches to writing drives another wedge between them. Hemingway is happy to lock himself away from the world to write novels, whilst Gellhorn needs the adrenaline rush of living what she's writing. Gellhorn is also driven by the belief that by reporting the reality of war she will somehow help those affected.
Definitely a book I will come back to again and again. Highly recommend it.
I watched this absolutely wonderful HBO miniseries called Hemingway and Gellhorn in 2012. I had major movie hangover after watching it. IMBD users didn’t seem to like it as much as I did, but for whatever reason this movie just resonated with me and I was fascinated by this couple I knew nothing about.
I knew that Hemingway was moody and an all around asshole but that he wrote beautifully. Full disclosure, I haven’t read a single Hemingway book—-but I’ve read enough Hemingway quotes to discern that he’s a brilliant writer.
The person I didn’t really know much about though was Martha Gellhorn. In the film she seemed like a cross between Lois Lane and a salty bitch—so naturally, I was intrigued by her. When this book came up for review, I was excited to read it, especially because it appeared to focus mostly on her. One of the things that I was most interested in with this novel was the power play between the two characters. Both were rising literary stars and both had egos to contend with. The attraction between the two was undeniable and yet their passion for writing and their careers, eclipsed their relationship. I was curious to see how that played out in this retelling of their love story. The author had big shoes to fill when it came to these two characters. I think that Clayton rose to the occasion beautifully.
Clayton chose to focus more on the love story between the two for this novelization of two real people and I think that’s what made it work. I think had she tried to incorporate more of their actual work, then it wouldn’t have worked as well. If that was the case she might as well have written a biography. So I like that Clayton went more with the romance part.
The chemistry between Gellhorn and Hemingway is great in this novel. It’s a delicate balance of highly charged sexual tension and tender romance and I think that Clayton stayed true to that piece of their love story.
The one thing I was disappointed in was the portrayal of Gellhorn. In real life, she was this strong, independent woman who wanted recognition of her abilities in her own right. She was bold as brass and a fighter if I ever saw one. That was ultimately what drew Hemingway to her. In many ways I think Hemingway looked at her and saw himself….and perhaps he was right. However in this book that part of her personality is down played quite a bit which I found disappointing.
Novelizations are so tricky. On one hand this is a fictional account of their lives but yet its based on real life events so how much of whats depicted on the pages are the ‘real characters’ and how much of the characters are downplayed or changed to suit the author’s vision? In this case I think there is a reasonable amount of creative license when it comes to Gellhorn’s character—though I could be wrong, as I am clearly not an expert on Marth Gellhron.
For me, this book was a 3.5 star. Clayton nailed the chemistry and romance but when it came to Martha, her character seemed out of place for what I knew of her.
As a final note…..I can’t believe Gellhorn married him. She should have known better! She’s a smart women, she should have seen that scenario coming a mile away.
This is a fact based work of fiction centering on the relationship between writer Earnest Hemmingway and the famous war correspondent and journalist Martha Gellhorn who became Hemmingway's third wife. They met while Hemmingway was still married to his second wife and often worked in the same war-torn countries starting with the Spanish Civil War and continuing into World War Two. After a long affair marked by many separations, Hemmingway finally filed for divorce from his second wife Pauline and married Martha. Although in love they were not good for each other and both had different ideas of what their marriage should be with Earnest needing to belittle his wife (sometimes publicly) in order to feel confident and manly. The addition of large amounts of alcohol and the predilection of both partners towards "darkness" added to the difficulty and finally resulted in their divorce after Hemmingway began an affair with the women who became this forth and last wife. (Do you see a pattern here?) Although my review reads like a soap opera, the book also affords a chance to see war reporting, and its effect on the people who engaged in it. As a result of reading of this book I have a better understanding of the Spanish Civil War and the events leading up to World War Two and the U.S.entry into the conflict.
My Interest As I’ve worked my way through Hemingway (slowly–lots left to go)–a writer I couldn’t stand in high school, I’ve discovered there is an entire industry of Mrs. Hemingway novels. Beautiful Exiles interested me because Martha Gellhorn was a war correspondent first in the Spanish Civil War and on through to even Vietnam–pretty darned bad ass if you ask me! In addition, Meg Waite Clayton is another author who has become a must-read for me (my reviews of other books by her are linked at the end of this post). I plan to read her backlist, too.
The Story While vacationing in Key West, Florida with her family, Martha Gellhorn meets Ernest Hemingway on a night out on the town. Hemingway is married to Pauline, mother of his two younger sons at this time, and does try to keep the friendship platonic for a while. Nonetheless, he invites Martha to his home repeatedly to discuss writing. Inevitably his friendship for her becomes his usual lust that must be satisfied. Meanwhile, the two go off to cover the war in Spain. Upon their return they move in together in the house Gellhorn buys in Cuba while Hemingway writes For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Once the chase is over and Hemingway has Gellhorn, he expects her to devote her time to adoring him and catering to his every bedtime whim. She is too independent for this and begins to suffocate emotionally. Hemingway goes out of his way on several occasions to humiliate Gellhorn. When World War II starts and Martha manages to get to London Hemingway feels neglected. The end is already in sight for their relationship which is marked by a cycle (in synch no doubt with his depression) of happiness, then put-downs, too much booze, not enough to do, humiliation and emotional abuse. The pattern was in all of his marriages.
My Thoughts It’s hard to keep in mind just how much pressure was put on women to marry and to conform to what the husband wanted. Gellhorn was a great talent but constantly had to humiliate herself to pander to and placate Hemingway. I cannot imagine letting any man, let alone my husband, call me “Stooge” or “Daughter!” (The last is really creepy given that his eldest son was accused of bad stuff by his daughters). He also liked to make anti-Semitic statements, fully knowing Gellhorn had a Jewish father and grandparents. That and that she stood there and let him call her a “dry c–t” is beyond belief. That Martha went on to continue her successful career was not surprising, but the determination it took to do that was incredible.
Meg Waite Clayton captures “my” version of Martha well, even better than the rival book, though I did not count on quite such humiliating terms being used by Hemingway toward her. I could feel the humiliation of his words and of the way he tried to tear her down to embarrassed drinking buddies. I had tears in my eyes when he threw back at her the advice she’d given that got him to London. Despicable. I could smell the waft of the after-sex scent when Mary Walsh came into the hospital room in London, her bra-less breasts bobbing free to entertain the men. I have never liked women like Mary, always eager to take someone else’s man.
Clayton’s Martha (and my version of Martha) was too smart–she KNEW that if you marry the mistress you create a job opening. Hemingway’s “poor me” feelings during the down cycle of his depression (no meds back then) made him too eager to be comforted by whoever was available. His passive-aggressive actions were a recipe for the breakdown of any relationship. But, pathetically perhaps, I also felt the attraction of Hemingway–a big, strong, masculine, guy but with talent to the moon. Who wouldn’t be swept off her feet? Clayton made all of that real.
What impressed me most though was that Clayton has Martha worry about her sex life in a different way–that it was painful. That was very poignant. It was not done in a tacky way, but in her thoughts. Martha thinks how she’d like to ask some other women if this was normal. In that day and age it just didn’t happen. Now, I did not really need to know the nickname for Mr. H’s little Mr. H, nor did I need to know that an iceberg looked just that little guy when it was “in repose,” but it was a love affair and then a marriage–this stuff is there to embarrass all of us our whole lives, right?