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LOVE AND RUIN

This elegant if oddly bloodless narrative is a good introduction for those who know nothing of Gellhorn, but it basically...

Having focused on Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson, in The Paris Wife (2011), McLain now turns to his third, writer Martha Gellhorn.

As she did with Hadley and with Beryl Markham in Circling the Sun (2015), McLain closely follows previously published biographical material to create her novel. A journalist who landed with the troops at Omaha Beach and the author of books of fiction and nonfiction as well as a play, Gellhorn is considered one of the most important war correspondents of the 20th century. But when she meets Hemingway in late 1936 in a Key West bar at the beginning of this novel, she's in her late 20s and has just published her first book. Ernest is 10 years older and still married to second wife Pauline. Having been burned by an affair with a married man, Martha insists that her deepening friendship with Ernest is purely platonic. The reader is not fooled despite their banal, Hemingway-esque dialogue. Ernest’s plan to travel to Spain to cover the civil war there ignites Martha’s sense of purpose and adventure. With his encouragement, she lands in Madrid, where she finds her calling as a journalist—the scene in which she witnesses a child’s death is genuinely powerful—and the two writers begin an affair. Once Franco wins, Martha joins Ernest for an idyllic life in Cuba that’s filled with writing and romance. Pauline remains in Key West, that marriage in tatters. But by the time Martha marries Ernest in 1940, she worries that her husband’s oversized personality, magnetism, and talent might crush her own spirit and ambition. They don’t, but his selfish childishness, competitiveness, and vindictiveness make their relationship untenable. Martha comes across as one tough cookie, Ernest as a great writer but a small man.

This elegant if oddly bloodless narrative is a good introduction for those who know nothing of Gellhorn, but it basically rehashes information and sentiments already available in that writer’s own memoir and published letters.

Pub Date: May 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-101-96738-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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