*I received this book as a digital ARC from NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review*
In June, 1961, A.E. Hotchner visited Ernest Hemingway in a psychiatric ward at St. Mary’s Hospital. A few weeks later, Hemingway would be released home and within a week of his release, would take his own life. In this memoir, Hotchner reminisces about his 14 year friendship with Hemingway and the intimate details of his friend’s life that were entrusted to him in that time period. Hemingway shared these details with Hotchner not in confidence, but in the hope that they would be shared with the world if he did not have the opportunity to do so himself.
Throughout their friendship, Papa Hemingway shared not only details of his adventures, safaris, and world travels, but the full story of his marriage to Hadley Richardson, and its eminent destruction and aftermath. It’s these details that A.E. Hotchner shares in Hemingway in Love. They are stories and details that have been waiting decades to be revealed, and provide new dimension to Hemingway, his life, and his works.
Anyone who knows me will gladly tell you that I can rarely be found with my nose stuck in non-fiction of any kind. For me, reading is an escape, and more times than not, I have a hard time forgetting myself in a biography or memoir. I requested this book from NetGalley because I’ve recently read Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife and Erika Robuck’s Hemingway’s Girl and found myself intrigued by and dying to know more about Ernest Hemingway.
This was the first non-fiction and/or first-hand account I’ve read about him and I was pleased to find that much of the book read like a novel. This book had a lot going for it that made me really enjoy it. It was wonderfully written in a way that made you feel as though you were sitting at a bar with Papa Hemingway himself, listening to him tell you his story. As a side benefit, it had a photograph of Hemingway at the beginning of every chapter, which really allowed the reader to visualize the “characters” as though they were reading a novel. It was surprisingly easy to get wrapped up in and forget myself in the story of Ernest, Hadley (Richardson) and Pauline Hemingway.
Because of Hotchner’s ability to envelop his readers in the details of his story, I formed an entirely new perspective on Hemingway in the process of reading this book. Because of what I’d read and heard, I viewed Hemingway as a larger-than-life womanizer with tendencies towards egomania and an indulgence in a lavish lifestyle when it was afforded to him. What I learned here wasn’t that I was necessarily wrong, but it gave insight into the motivations behind Mr. Hemingway’s behavior. Was he a womanizer, yes. That’s an indelible fact no matter how you look at it. However, what I
hadn’t realized, was that although he was married four times, and often indulged in affairs with other women while married, he never fell out of love with his first wife. The passion and regret in his words when he spoke to A.E. Hotchner about Hadley was absolutely gut-wrenching. In one interaction with Hotchner, Hemingway recalls a conversation he had with Hadley while skiing that essentially sums up his feelings for her until the day he died:
Hemingway: “I love you Kitten”
Hadley: ” Will you love me forever?”
Hemingway: “Through Infinity”
Hadley: “I don’t know much about infinity.”
Hemingway: “Infinity begins where forever leaves off.”
Unfortunately, Hemingway’s “forever” ended much too quickly. He spent his last days believing he was being watched by the FBI and any number of other government agencies. Because of his paranoia, he was hospitalized, subjected to electric shock treatments, and eventually killed himself. As it turns out, he wasn’t paranoid at all. He was right. He was under surveillance from the government; tapped phones, undercover operatives, and who knows what else. Of course, I’d known and read this before, but reading it from Hotchner, not only a fabulous writer, but a personal friend of Hemingway’s, and given the new perspective I’d gained while reading his work, this fact struck me in a way it never had before.
Because of this book, I have added several works by Hemingway and several Hemingway-related titles to my To-Be-Read list. The perspective I’ve gained and the enjoyment I got out of reading this book will serve me well in perspective and context in my future readings.
Tip to readers: If you’re new to Hemingway, read Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife before reading this book! The backstory on Hadley Richardson will prove invaluable when navigating the context of this memoir.