Mrs. Hemingway follows the four wives of author Ernest Hemingway. As the book jacket says, “Each Mrs. Hemingway though their love would last forever; each one was wrong.” The book opens with Hadley, Hemingway’s first wife and mother to his son Bumby. Her marriage is already under siege from Pauline Pfeiffer, her friend and Ernest’s mistress. The novel flashes back and forth between the characters’ present and past, deftly illustrating how Hemingway managed to lure his wives with his own brand of impetuous charisma. The novel then moves to Pauline’s story. She gives Hemingway two sons before he is distracted by journalist Martha Gellhorn, but even his and Martha’s romance and subsequent marriage crumble into the mediocrity of domesticity and Hemingway’s raging alcoholism. Mary is the last wife, and much like Henry VIII’s wife Catherine Parr, she manages to survive her tumultuous years with Ernest and his subsequent suicide.
The novel spans forty years and can get confusing in some parts. The frequent flashbacks and change of character perspective can be hard to follow. Wood’s prose is sparse but beautiful and as a result, keeps the story moving. Hemingway emerges as he has usually been portrayed: a self-destructive enigma with little staying power. He moves through four wives in succession, leaving broken hearts and changing lives in his wake. General historic fiction loves and devotees of Hemingway will enjoy this comprehensive look at the women who shaped the great American writer.