Book Reviews, Historical

Mrs Hemingway – Naomi Wood Review

 

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Rating: ★★★★★

I’ve never read any books by Ernest Hemingway, or anything about him, but I was interested in this book ever since it came out. Instead of telling the story of the world famous author, it tells the story of his wives, and of the turbulent lives that they shared with Hemingway. Despite not knowing anything about Hemingway, as I said, I didn’t feel that this hampered my ability to enjoy the book, and I actually really loved it.

The book is split into four parts, each following a different wife. First is Hadley, then Pauline, Martha, then Mary. They each tell the story of their relationship with Ernest, but interestingly, from the end of their relationship. In most of the cases, the marriage is at the brink, and the wives are either desperate to save it, or eager to let go, and in the last case, Mary tells her story from after Ernest’s death. They go back from this unhappy ending to the happy beginnings, and then go through all the ups and downs of their relationships. I loved this from of telling events with hindsight of how the relationship would turn out in the end, and how the later events of a relationship influence the memories that the women have of earlier events. This was made even more interesting by the fact that there are overlaps in the relationships, as Ernest Hemingway often left one wife with the other waiting in the sidelines. What this means is that you often read the same event twice, whether it’s a dinner party, or a holiday, but through the eyes of the wife first, then the next wife, who was at the time the mistress, second.

There are many references to genuine primary documents in this novel, as Wood used references to real love letters and telegrams, which makes this all feel so much more substantial. I felt like I really was talking to the women in person, and you could feel their joy, anger, bitterness, or sadness. Although the four sections are not particularly long (about 80 pages), I felt like I really got to know the four different wives and their emotions, their hopes and their regrets. This was helped by the fact that the prose is simple, but still gets across what they feel strongly, so the novel never dragged on. Further, you get to see Ernest Hemingway from four different angles. Instead of Ernest Hemingway feeling like a substantial person that I had gotten to know however, Wood makes him stay a sort of enigma, as if neither wife really knew him fully or could ever hold onto him tight enough to make him stay. With each wife, he changes a little, and so you end up feeling the same desperation and confusion as the wives do.

I don’t read a lot of adult or historical fiction, but occasionally, when novels from these genres catch my eye, they are for a reason. I knew that I would enjoy this storytelling from the point of view of women who are typically not as well remembered as the man they loved. Instead of this being about Ernest, through his wives’ eyes, it was about the wives, and I loved the complete focus on their inner lives and emotions.

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Book Reviews, Historical

The Light Between Oceans – M.L. Steadman Review

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks (Instagram)

Rating: ★★★★★

This book did so much to my emotions while I read it that I barely know where to start with this review! The Light Between Oceans is such a moving, riveting, and tragic story about people making the wrong choice, for the right reasons, and making the right choice even though it will hurt someone. It will push you to question what you would do in the characters’ positions, and although it might seem simple from the outside, it will make you root for each character in turn so that you just don’t know anymore.

Tom Sherbourne has returned to Australia after serving as a soldier in the Great War, and takes a job as a lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, a solitary, harsh island. He marries the young, bold Isabel and brings her home with him, where they set about building their life together. They are happy to begin with, but miscarriages and stillbirths mar their joy. Then, one day, a boat washes up on the shore, and inside it is a man – dead – and a baby girl. Tom should report it, but Isabel has fallen in love with the little girl, and she has suffered so much. However, it is easier to live with this choice on the solitary island than it is on the homeland. When Tom and Isabel return to the mainland with the baby, named Lucy, Tom hears about a local woman who lost her husband and baby daughter at sea. Faced with the truth, he must decide what to do, knowing that whatever he decides to do, somebody will suffer.

My favourite thing about this novel was the writing. Steadman’s prose is absolutely beautiful, almost poetic to read. I would happily read page after page of Steadman’s writing. Every word helps you to get into the characters’ mindsets. She expertly describes life of Janus Rock, the characters’ relationships, their daily lives, and it is the atmosphere that she creates of a sort of grey, dreary and lonesome island that allows the story and emotional turmoil of the characters to stand out. I felt that this high quality of writing was really important for me to connect with the characters and enjoy the novel, as the actual story itself is quite harrowing. Not only is it sad, but it’s filled with characters making decisions that are morally questionable – to say the least. If the writing had been more simplistic, I think that many of these situations would have felt too clear-cut, and because I wouldn’t have related to the characters, I wouldn’t have felt challenged by their choices, and the story would have just felt like heartbreak and bad decision after heartbreak and bad decision.

I have read some criticisms of this book where people are argued that it is too sad or that they can’t stand the characters’ decisions, but I felt like Steadman’s writing made it possible for me to inhabit both Tom and Isabel’s minds, see what they were going through, and understand that sometimes our minds can be clouded by emotion. At times, Tom is confident that he must return Lucy to her true mother, but he can’t face robbing his wife, who is his whole world, of her only joy. Meanwhile, when we meet Isabel has been worn down by the death of her own babies. She loves Lucy, she needs Lucy, and she sees herself as Lucy’s mother. We also see Lucy’s real mother, and her own sorrow. The true triumph of this book for me is that, just as Tom didn’t know what he should do, I didn’t either. It can be easy to criticise people and say ‘Why would you do X when Y is clearly the best choice?’ but in this book, I really felt for all the characters. I was heartbroken for all of the characters. I wanted them all to get their happy ending.

This isn’t a novel with a dramatic, fast-paced plot, but rather the action lies in the emotion. This was fine with me, I love exploring people’s inner lives, their choices, morals, choices. As I’ve said, Steadman’s writing made this book really stand out to me, but others who maybe prefer more plot over emotion might find this book a little boring. What I did like about the plot is that this isn’t a novel that is littered with secondary plots, with random events that distract you from the main storyline, and pointless characters. The story says firmly fixed on the main story – Lucy. Personally, I loved that. The author chose a topic, stuck with it, and delivered. I never felt confused or weighed down by rambling narrative because the subject of the passage is simple – Lucy, Isabel, Tom. So, even if you maybe prefer a plot that develops quickly, that isn’t to say that this book isn’t for you.