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New Release Tuesday: Love and Ruin by Paula McLain

I didn't want to cause trouble; I only knew what I knew. That Ernest could eclipse me, as large as any sun without even trying. 

Paula McLain's latest biological fiction novel returns to a familiar subject for the author, Ernest Hemingway - or more accurately one of his wives. And while the novel is a lush and evocative retelling of Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway's love affair - the best word I can think of to describe it is languid.

At the beginning of the novel we're introduced to Martha Gellhorn, a spirited young woman with aspirations to be a writer. She's spent some time jaunting around Europe, has written a failed book and is now working on another. Marty is an interesting enough character on her own, but her story wouldn't be complete without Hemingway's larger than life persona - their affair, marriage and artistic competitiveness, the last of which ultimately lead to the demise of their relationship.

This book is beautifully written, the descriptions of Spain and especially Cuba are vivid to the point of verging on atmospheric. McLain does an absolutely spellbinding job of creating a real sense of place and time in her work. It's a truly engrossing novel that swept me away with Ernest and Marty. That said, this book is a languorous retelling of Gellhorn and Hemingway's lives together that seems to linger just a little bit more than it should at points.

Fans of McLain's earlier work should enjoy this story, told from the perspective of Hemingway's third wife - one who was not content to simply be a domestic accessory and instead demanded to stand on her own as a person and a writer. She's an admirable subject, and I felt in many ways the woman in whom Hemingway met his match. Hemingway was said to be a charismatic man - who was not known to be kind to women. He was a serial cheater who happened to be a brilliant writer. For someone like Martha Gellhorn, a young aspiring writer with her sights set on a successful career of her own, it's easy to see how she fell in love with Hemingway. It's just as easy, though, to see how she found herself in his shadow - eclipsed by his work. McLain does such an extraordinary job of allowing us inside Martha's head - sharing her insecurities, her triumphs and sadness with such ease. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the world through her lens.

I would recommend this to fans of historical fiction who enjoy character driven novels that read like a letter from a friend. I'm excited to see what Paula McLain does next.

Thank you to Random House and Netgalley for providing a free advanced egalley for me to review. 
All thoughts are my own. 

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