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Competing couple
by Lucy Scholes July 13, 2018
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Paula McLain takes the turbulent relationship between Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway as the subject of her new novel. The story opens in 1936: Gellhorn is 27, back in the US after living in Paris, “trying to become a writer” and throwing herself “hard at experience.”

She’s dealing with the opposite poles of mourning — her father recently died — and success — her second novel, The Trouble I’ve Seen, is making waves where her debut didn’t. One afternoon, searching out icy cold tipples during a family holiday to Key West, she meets her “idol,” Ernest Hemingway. Of all the joints in all the towns in the world, she walks into his, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Drawing on Gellhorn’s own memoirs and letters, McLain is fleshing out a story that’s already familiar, but it’s fascinating to be taken back to the beginning of both this relationship and Gellhorn’s own illustrious career. Although already an adventurer, the woman we meet here hasn’t yet become the famous, fearless — and often difficult — war correspondent we associate with the name Martha Gellhorn today.

McLain reveals another side to her: the woman who poured her energy into creating an idyllic “foxhole” in Hemingway’s beloved Cuba, a home for the two of them where they could write side by side, and who loved his boys as if they were her own.

As in McLain’s previous novel — the bestselling The Paris Wife, which told the story of Hemingway’s first marriage, to Hadley Richardson — the great writer is again seen through the eyes of his partner. Though whereas Hadley was fighting to keep her man, this time round it’s Gellhorn’s own agency that’s at stake. “I would be his wife first, and myself only if I fought constantly to make it so,” she realises.

Gellhorn loves her husband dearly, but she refuses to sacrifice her own dreams. Her prose is continually compared to his, and she’s forced to compete with him, “elbow to elbow, and pen to pen.” Love and Ruin makes for captivating reading, and Gellhorn’s a most worthy subject for McLain’s skilful portraiture.

The Independent
TANGO LESSONS
by Meghan Flaherty

In Meghan Flaherty’s Tango Lessons, tango class is the setting for a young woman’s coming-of-age in New York City, the school where she will study not just the techniques and traditions of the dance but also culture, history, philosophy, gender roles and, of course, her own psyche. Although Sweetbitter is fiction and Tango Lessons is memoir, the books have a similar tone, a dramatic, Sylvia Plath-like lyricism. There are more descriptions of tango in here than seem possible; some rhapsodic, some metaphorical, some researched and reported, backed up with pages of notes at the end.

THERE THERE
by Tommy Orange

Every American is a child of immigrants. The only difference is how long ago your forebears came here from another land, by sail or steam, on foot or by jet engine, by choice or by enslavement. The clear winners of that contest, of course, are Native Americans, whose ancestors arrived 14,000 years, give or take, ahead of everyone else’s, millennia before the founding of the nation that was recently celebrated. Leave aside the bitter irony of descendants of those first people on the continent being attacked now as “invaders” by someone whose family got here, historically speaking, last month. There are plenty more ironies, much bitterness and some sweetness to be found in Tommy Orange’s stunner of a debut novel, There There.

DEAR MRS. BIRD
by: A.J. Pearce

Emmy, the narrator of A.J. Pearce’s engaging debut novel, Dear Mrs. Bird, rooms with her best friend, Bunty, in 1940 London. She works nights as a volunteer fire dispatcher and has just taken a day job as a junior typist at a women’s magazine. Emmy’s new boss is Mrs. Bird, a formidable woman who writes the magazine’s advice column, answering letters from readers — but only select letters. Nothing racy. Nothing even interesting.  Nothing about real life during wartime, or, God forbid, about love, marriage or relationships. These topics, Mrs. Bird maintains, are inappropriate. She prefers to answer questions about hairdos and knitting and the proper filling for sandwiches. It is Emmy’s job to cull the inappropriate letters from the morning mail, cut them up and throw them away. But Emmy recognises both courage and loneliness in these letters, and she begins to tuck them away in her desk drawer.  After Emmy and Bunty have a devastating falling-out, Emmy begins questioning the wisdom of stoicism and silence in the face of suffering.
 

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