This is the story of four women, all very different in nature, all connected by one man. The book is broken into four parts with each telling the tale of one of the four wives of Earnest Hemingway. Hadley Richardson is the first wife and is somewhat older than Earnest when they meet. She knew him before he came to fame and couldn’t hold onto him once he was on the edges of it. Her best friend Fife (Pauline Pfeiffer) is the woman who steals him from her grasp. Fife is a socialite and writer, and her passionate love affair with Earnest holds for many years until once again a new woman emerges. Martha Gellhorn is a war correspondent and seems to match the vigour of Hemingway and treats him as an equal, but their marriage is short lived. His final wife is Mary Welsh, a journalist who leaves her husband to marry Earnest and is there with him until his death.
The four different tales are about loss. We meet each woman when the Earnest has already moved on and is seeing another woman. Hemingway does not seem to hide his womanising, and the current wife knows about the next long before the break up actually occurs. The first two wives treat Earnest as a perfect man and someone they worship. Hadley clearly doesn’t think she is good enough for the writer, whereas Fife has an intense passion for him, unable to live without him. Martha is a breath of relief as she seems him for what he is. His final wife Mary suffers a different type of loss, as she has to deal with the suicide of her lover which she denies vehemently. It is something she did not see coming despite his depression.
Throughout the book, there is a haunting element of a suitcase that contained a variety of Earnest’s earliest work and the only copies of his first novel. The suitcase was stolen/ lost by Hadley while she was travelling to meet Earnest. He forgave her for the loss, but it is mentioned frequently thoughout the book, and remains lost to this day.
Naomi Wood admits this is a work of fiction in her acknowledgements, giving the name of several biographies if you wish to know more. It is a work of fiction that gives life to the characters and their fascinating lives. With the early parts of the book set in Frances in the 20’s and including the Fitzgeralds, this is a period that continues to intrigue and spark the imagination of new writers. This book will draw you in and demand your attention right to the tragic end.
Find out more about Naomi Wood on Picador’s Website here.