Mrs Hemingway – at last, great biographical fiction

Mrs Hemingway coverRecently there have been quite a few novels that have taken real life stories as their inspiration but Naomi Wood’s Mrs Hemingway  is one of the few I’ve come across that has delivered the satisfaction of a convincing and well-crafted fiction along with the feeling of reading about events that did or could have taken place. The ‘could have’ is important. The author reminds us that this is fiction and I don’t know if Pauline ‘Fife’ Pfeiffer wore a dress of black feathers to seduce her friend’s husband or if sleazy bookseller Harry Cuzzemano ever existed. But something in the way it is written convinces me that the story is true to whatever facts are already known. In other words this book has the feeling of reality without being a slave to it, which I think is a hard act to pull off. It’s also an absorbing and well-paced read  in which we can feel the torpor of summer in Antibes, the claustrophobia of Cuba and the peculiar anarchy of post-liberation Paris.

The book gains momentum by focussing on the moment when each of the wives sees another woman come into view and realises her time with Hemingway is coming to an end. Because of this structure, the story skips backwards and forwards in time, and during each episode past events are also recounted, so that once or twice  I was confused and had to make a point of reading the date/place chapter headings with care. Other than that I was swept along in the stories of four very different women and the one man who held them – and many others – emotionally captive.

Maybe the book gains from not speaking in the voice of Hemingway himself but letting us see the effect he had on others. It had certainly made me eager to find out more about Hemingway’s life and work – which must be the best test of this kind of fictional biography and  Naomi Wood’s website is a great place to start. As a writer, I confess to being just a tad envious of the author’s funded research to all these fabulous places, but also uplifted to know that a task I was beginning to think was impossible, actually can be done.

 

 

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2 responses to “Mrs Hemingway – at last, great biographical fiction

  1. I have a copy of this book on its way to me and even more looking forward to reading it now. It’s an interesting and challenging structure, isn’t it, to explore a character’s life via his impact on other people (a bit too lazy at the moment to think about where I’ve seen this done before). Are you trying to write this way too?

    • Hi Ann – for ages I have been attempting to write about a historical figure and have veered from history to fiction and back again a few times. But I am now sticking with the novel, so rather pleased to have found a good ‘model’ – although I’m sure there are many more out there, and not that there is any real comparison so far in form or content!
      Some clues on the In Progress page. https://alibacon.com/research/
      Ali B