Hemingway

A few short reviews

I’m not quite sure how it has happened that I’ve not posted on my blog for so long. You’d think that the months of lockdown restrictions would have given me more time not less! In a way to catch up on some of my outstanding reviews I thought I’d try and cram a few into the same post.

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First up – one of the few books that I’ve been sent by a publisher this year.

Title – Lost Souls

Author – Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman

Published – 2021

Genre – Crime fiction

While I’m a big fan of Jonathan Kellerman, I don’t feel quite the same about his son Jesse, so if I’d been offered a review copy of this book I may well have turned it down. As it happens this just arrived in the post – and I’m very pleased it did.

This is the third in the ‘Clay Edison’ series but it wasn’t spoiled by not having read the preceding books. 

Clay Edison is the Deputy Coroner working the graveyard shift in a Californian suburb when he’s called out to the discovery of a dead infant uncovered by developers working in a local park. It will be Edison’s job to find the cause of death and determine the child’s identity. This is a particularly poignant case as Edison and his wife are just coming to terms with the arrival of their own small daughter. 

Prompted by news of the discovery Edison is approached by a man who is trying discover what happened to his sister who went missing as a small child some fifty years previously. Touched by the man’s situation Edison embarks on a private investigation.

Despite the similarities of the stories the investigations complement each other and I found this a quick and enjoyable read. I do wish, however, that I’d had a better idea of what a coroner’s role was in the US. 

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Next – a book that’s been on my shelves for a while. 

Title – The Stars are Fire

Author – Anita Shreve

Published – 2017

Genre – Fiction

This was the last of Anita Shreve’s books to be published before she died in 2018 and I’ve been saving it for a while.

Set in 1947 on the Maine coast, Grace and her husband a struggling in an unhappy marriage with their two young children. When Grace is pregnant with their third child fires sweep along the coast and Gene volunteers to help in a neighbouring town, leaving Grace to look after their home and their children. Gene hasn’t returned when the fire reaches their own home and Grace must draw on a strength and practicality she didn’t know she had to make sure that she and her children survive. 

In the aftermath of the fire and the decimation of their town she has to find a way to manage when Gene still doesn’t return to them. Grace turns out to be resourceful and is supported by a small cast of people who do their best to help her but ultimately her future will be determined by the fate of her husband. 

An atmospheric book with a period setting and an insight into the everyday lives of women and the hardship they faced, especially how difficult it could be to be single. 

Not my favourite of Shreve’s books but a story with a memorable main character. It also makes a change to read a book that’s told in an uncomplicated way with a single point of view and a chronological timeline. 

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Third – a sort of memoir. 

Title – Hemingway in Love

Author – A E Hotchner

Published – 2015

Genre – Memoir

I chose this book as I’ve developed a bit of an interest in Hemingway after reading Mrs. Hemingway: A Novel in 2014. 

Hotchner first met Hemingway when he was sent to commission him in Havana in 1948 for Cosmopolitan. They struck up a friendship and frequently travelled together until Hemingway’s death in 1961, in 1966 he published ‘Papa Hemingway: A Personal Memoir’. 

This is a slim book that provides an insight into Hemingway’s own thoughts on the affair that destroyed his first marriage (and led to his second). The dilemma he faced as he was ‘torn between two women’ and how he let Pauline Pfeiffer gain the upper hand. 

This gave an interesting perspective but like many books on this subject it remains difficult to see what is the truth of the relationships versus what people want you to think. Although it does provide a nice, potted, biography of the big man. 

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Finally –  review of a book that’s been sitting on my TBR shelf for 6 years!

Title – The Widow’s Confession 

Author – Sophia Tobin

Published – 2015

Genre – Historical fiction

This is the second book by Sophia Tobin (her debut was The Silversmith’s Wife) and is an atmospheric drama set in 1851. Broadstairs in Kent is the summer destination for people wanting to take the air or keep a low profile; a number of chance encounters amongst these visitors creates a small group of acquaintances who enjoy a few excursions together around the town. An eclectic group where a widow, a priest, and a painter can all find themselves having a picnic and shell collecting together. 

The necessities of Victorian life mean that there are conventions to be followed and woe betide those who don’t toe the line. In this upright and uptight atmosphere it’s easy to keep secrets buried but there is a price to pay when they are uncovered. There is also an ‘outsider’ element to the story – with a division between the ‘locals’ and the ‘visitors’.  

There is a mystery, a number of young women who are found dead on the shore, but that’s more of an aside to the way the relationships develop between the disparate group, it’s the feelings that the deaths bring to the surface within the group that are more prominent than the search for the person responsible.  

I enjoyed this with its historical details, atmospheric setting and well-drawn characters and I was particularly a fan of Delphine Beck. 

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Two reviews and a trip to Paris

July saw us take a weekend break in Paris, so with this in mind I had tried to find some suitable reading before our trip. The first book that sprang to mind was Ernest  Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast”. I really enjoyed Naomi Wood’s book featuring the lives of his wives and there had been a few references in that to his time in Paris. A Moveable Feast is a memoir (of sorts) of Hemingway’s time in Paris in the 1920’s. This was a period when authors and artists such as Gertrude Stein, F Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound and of course Hemingway, migrated to Paris. The book is lots of short stories which paint brief sketches of Hemingway’s time there and his relationship with some of the other notable names that were part of his circle, as well as some about his life with Hadley, his first wife.

Shakespeare & Co - current location

Shakespeare & Co – current location

 The book is certainly an easy read and evokes the time and the place. The stories varied in length and some were more, well, straightforward, than others. Let’s just say that a few of the stories are extremely odd.

You can Google for some renowned quotes from the book but the line that I will take away is, speaking of Ralph Cheever Dunning, “For a poet he threw a very accurate milk bottle.”

The book was put together after Hemingway’s death by his last wife and it was based on a manuscript that he had been working on.  I’m sure that there is a great deal to interest scholars in the book and the version I have makes much of the fact that it includes some unfinished sketches which weren’t previously published.  All of which leaves me with the niggling feeling that what I’ve been presented with as Hemingway’s work isn’t necessarily something that he thought was ready for publication. There are some quotes at the end which are described as fragments of handwritten drafts and these show the different spin on just a few short sections that Hemingway was both writing and discarding.

We didn’t manage to see very much of the Paris Hemingway talks about but we did squeeze in a visit to the current incarnation of the Shakespeare and Company bookshop.

My other Paris-related read was a new title – The Lying Down Room by Anna Jaquiery, published in April this year. This is the debut novel by Jaquiery, a journalist of French-Malaysian descent. The book has a contemporary Parisian setting, with a backstory set in Russia. The book introduces us to Chief Inspector Serge Morel, who reminded me of both Commandant Camille Verhœven (from the Pierre Lemaitre books) and Camilleri’s Montalbano.

The mystery concerns an elderly woman who is discovered dead in her bed, which on the face of it is not particularly mysterious, however she has been carefully dressed and made-up. The police are keen to interview a man and a mute boy who have been approaching other elderly women, and for a long time this is their only lead. While progress is slow the sad and dark backstory provides some tantalising clues that may lead to an explanation of the murder, and a story which draws Morel and his team out of Paris and into the French countryside.

This is one of those murder mysteries where the characters are as important as the plot and Morel certainly delivers what you would expect of a detective – he has a troubled personal life (an obsession with an old flame), concerns about his father’s health, and an unusual release for his stress in origami. He is paired with an intelligent and feisty young female detective, Lila, who acts as a good foil.

The book provided some of the flavour of Paris that I was looking for, as well a being a thoughtful crime novel. Morel is definitely a detective that I want to read more about (how fortunate that this is the first of a series!). Thank you to the publisher for a review copy.

Tour Eiffel

Tour Eiffel

So Paris – how was that? The first word that springs to mind is hot! It was well above he average for the time of year and as we only had a few days we needed to crack on and fit a lot in – no time for lounging about in the shade! We managed to see many of the sights, walked around 8 – 10 miles each day and had a mixed experience of the food and drink. Surprisingly I did manage to miss out on one item on my ‘To Do’ list – I didn’t have a glass of champagne! I guess I need to go back…

Mrs. Hemingway: A Novel – Naomi Wood

81zZMCvizRL._SL1500_Title – Mrs. Hemingway: A Novel

Author – Naomi Wood

Published – Feb 2014

Genre – Historical fiction

In a similar vein to Burial Rites this is a fictional account of real characters, and it is equally enthralling. I must confess that before I started the book I knew very little about Hemingway, and in fact I would have said that he was more of a womaniser and less of a serial husband. In fact the whole impression of his ‘hunting, shooting and fishing’ and the pictures that I was familiar with in his later life meant I hadn’t expected him to be much of a catch, but it transpires that the very opposite was true.

The book opens in June 1926 when Ernest and his first wife, Hadley, were staying in Antibes, and his lover was staying with them – which sets the scene for his unconventional lifestyle. The book is beautifully written and Wood really manages to transport the reader in both time and place. It spans the period from the difficulties in his marriage to Hadley in 1926 until 1961, after Hemingway’s death, and takes the reader from the lazy days of Antibes in the ‘roaring twenties’ through the liberation of Paris in 1944, into Havana and finally Idaho. I was particularly fascinated by the early part of the book and the friendship with F Scott Fitzgerald – oh to have been a fly on the wall!

Wood’s skilful writing gives each of the wives their own voice, so it’s very easy to recognise their different personalities and relationships with Hemingway. Perhaps it’s because it makes a change from my more usual staple of crime fiction or perhaps it’s the evocative writing and storytelling by Wood, but I was captivated by these women. Of course the largest character is the one that we glimpse through the eyes of the women he marries and my challenge now is to read both some of his own writing as well as find out more about him.

Many thanks to Picador for my review copy. If you’re interested in seeing some of the characters and locations from the book then you should look at Naomi Wood’s Pinterest boards.

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