Love and Ruin (McLain)

Love and Ruin 
Paula McLain, 2018
Random House
400 pp.

The bestselling author of The Paris Wife returns to the subject of Ernest Hemingway in a novel about his passionate, stormy marriage to Martha Gellhorn—a fiercely independent, ambitious young woman who would become one of the greatest war correspondents of the 20th century.

In 1937, twenty-eight-year-old Martha Gellhorn travels alone to Madrid to report on the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War and becomes drawn to the stories of ordinary people caught in the devastating conflict.

It’s the adventure she’s been looking for and her chance to prove herself a worthy journalist in a field dominated by men. But she also finds herself unexpectedly—and uncontrollably—falling in love with Hemingway, a man on his way to becoming a legend.

In the shadow of the impending Second World War, and set against the turbulent backdrops of Madrid and Cuba, Martha and Ernest’s relationship and their professional careers ignite.

But when Ernest publishes the biggest literary success of his career, For Whom the Bell Tolls, they are no longer equals, and Martha must make a choice: surrender to the confining demands of being a famous man’s wife or risk losing Ernest by forging a path as her own woman and writer.

It is a dilemma that could force her to break his heart, and hers.

Heralded by Ann Patchett as "the new star of historical fiction," Paula McLain brings Gellhorn’s story richly to life and captures her as a heroine for the ages: a woman who will risk absolutely everything to find her own voice. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where— Fresno, California, USA
Education—M.F.A., University of Michigan
Currently—lives in Cleveland, Ohio

Paula McLain is an American author best known for her novel, The Paris Wife, a fictionalized account of Ernest Hemingway's first marriage. That work became a long-time New York Times bestseller. Her 2015 novel centering on female aviator Beryl Markham was released to excellent reviews in 2015. 

McLain has also published two collections of poetry in 1999 and 2005, a memoir about growing up in the foster system in 2003, and the novel A Ticket to Ride in 2008.

McLain was born in Fresno, California. Her mother vanished when she was four, and her father was in and out of jail, leaving McLain and her two sisters (one older, one younger) to move in and out of various foster homes for the next fourteen years. It was an ordeal described in her memoir, Like Family: Growing Up in Other People's Houses.

When she aged out of the system, McLain supported herself by working in various jobs before discovering she could write. Eventually, she received an MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan and has been a resident of Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony as well as the recipient of fellowships from the Ohio Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.

She lives in Cleveland with her family. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 8/19/2015.)

Book Reviews
McLain strikingly depicts Martha Gellhorn’s burgeoning career as a writer and war correspondent during the years of her affair with and marriage to Ernest Hemingway.… Gellhorn emerges as a fierce trailblazer every bit Hemingway’s equal in this thrilling book.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review.) [The] tempestuous relationship, a ferocious contest between two brilliant, willful, and intrepid writers. McLain’s fast-moving, richly insightful, heart-wrenching, and sumptuously written tale pays exhilarating homage to its truly exceptional and significant inspiration.

Martha comes across as one tough cookie, Ernest as a great writer but a small man. This elegant if oddly bloodless narrative is a good introduction for those who know nothing of Gellhorn, but it basically rehashes information and sentiments.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Martha tells us from the outset that, for better or worse, she is a born traveler. What kind of expectation does that set up about her personality and disposition? What character traits might "born travelers" have that others don’t?

2. Just before Martha meets Ernest, her father dies. How might that make her more impressionable or susceptible to Ernest’s influence?

3. How would you describe Martha’s outlook as she heads off to Madrid? What are her reasons for going? What did the war seem to mean to her, and to others who volunteered?

4. When Martha begins to feel Ernest is drawn to her physically, she initially resists, saying he’s "too Hemingway." What does she mean by that? What is she afraid of?

5. Martha tells us that after three weeks in Madrid she felt she never wanted to leave, saying, "It was like living with my heart constantly in my throat." How could that feeling be perceived as positive? What are some of things she loves about Spain? About her circle of friends and colleagues at the Hotel Florida?

6. When Martha finds the house in Cuba, the Finca Vigía, she falls in love with it instantly, even though it’s in ruins. Why? What does she hope to gain by restoring the property and living there with Ernest? What are the risks?

7. When Martha accepts the assignment to travel to Finland for Collier’s, Ernest says teasingly to their group of friends in Sun Valley that she’s abandoning him. Is it really a joke or is there significant tension brewing? What are Martha’s reasons for going? How does she feel about her work in relation to her personal life? Can the two coexist? Can she—or anyone—have everything?

8. Though Martha is the one who chooses the Finca as a "beautiful foxhole" to share with Ernest, the house eventually begins to weigh on her. Why? What is draining to her about domesticity? Does Ernest have the same ambivalence? Why or why not?

9. Although Martha loves Ernest and doesn’t want to give up her life with him, she has a lot of trepidation about marrying him. Why? What factors contribute to her anxiety? What does she stand to lose?

10. When For Whom the Bell Tolls is published in 1940, it’s a runaway success, selling more copies than any American novel before it save Gone with the Wind. How do the book’s success and Ernest’s intensifying fame challenge Martha as his wife? What about as a writer?

11. When Martha and Ernest go off to China, they’re both working as reporters in search of a story. How do their journalistic methods differ? Are they different kinds of travelers, with different worldviews? Would you say they’re compatible? Why or why not?

12. As the world plunges toward war, Martha feels increasingly compelled to go to Europe to try to write about what’s happening, while Ernest becomes obsessed with his sub-hunting "mission." What are the instincts that pull them in opposite directions? Do we understand what drives them? Do they understand and have compassion for each other, or are they spiraling toward an impasse?

13. When Martha is finally convinced she must go to Europe to report on the war if she’s going to live with herself, Ernest feels more and more despondent and abandoned. Finally, he betrays her by taking her correspondent’s credentials from Collier’s, effectively replacing her on the masthead and making a place at the front lines impossible for her. Can we comprehend his actions and find empathy for him? Why or why not?

14. When the marriage disintegrates beyond repair, Ernest almost immediately finds a new love interest in Mary Welsh (who will become Mrs. Hemingway #4), while Martha turns to her work to ease her pain, finding strength in reclaiming her name and her independence. Do you think their contrasting strategies for surviving heartbreak symbolize the essential differences between Martha and Ernest as people? And do you believe that two such very different personalities could ever hope to find lasting happiness together?
(Questions from the author's website.)

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