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Mary V Dearborn: Ernest Hemingway

Mary is an expert on all things Hemingway and this biography takes a deep dive into his life. From his childhood to his death this book benefits from extensive lifting from Hemingway’s personal letters and published works as well as containing a variety of photographs of key people and places. These elements serve to illustrate an expansive exploration of the American writer’s life, his troubles and his triumphs.

Author: Mary V Dearborn51gmRBecEpL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_

Title: Ernest Hemingway

Press: Knopf (PRH)

Date of Publication: 2017

Date of Purchase: December 2019

RRP: £30

Reading time: 3 months

Rating: 8

This was a wonderful, thoughtful Christmas gift from my mum (thank you if you’re reading).

I’m so glad I’ve had the time to dedicate to reading this this year. Three months ago I would have struggled to tell you anything about Ernest Hemingway, until mid-January I was still getting him confused with Mark Twain. However, this book had me hooked from the start. Dearborn’s easy style and anecdotal writing makes it easy to get into this absolute TOME of a book (carrying it back to uni via two trains was an incredible advert for EBooks). She starts at the beginning, with a potted history of Ernest’s parents’ lives and, without too much ducking and diving, follows a linear arc from birth to death.

She succeeds in emphasising key themes throughout, Ernest’s obsession with hair, his deteriorating relationship with the truth and his tendency to turn his back on his friends as quickly as he seemed to go off his wives. She manages to balance his violent temper with instances of incredible joviality and in this effectively mirrors the increasing prominence of Ernest’s mania.

After 800 pages with the man I have been angry with him more often than I have sympathised but I have also been frequently charmed by his wit and generosity. Dearborn had me questioning throughout, what would it have been to meet him? So many people, male and female, fell head over heels for his charm, something seemingly irresistible characterised his manner remained with him almost until the end of his life.

In a moment of society awakening to the crisis of male mental health this book is timely. It helps to put into perspective the undeniable genius of a man’s suffering and his steady emotional decline. This decline, left untreated for far too long, can perhaps help to guide conversations in the present day. Even ‘manly men’ are susceptible to mental illness and it is this message of Dearborn’s, highlighted in her introduction, which will stay with me.

On a lighter note: come at me pub quiz questions about Hemingway, I now have this covered.

(Oh and if anyone has read this and hasn’t had enough Hemingway or if you kind of fancy learning a bit about him by frankly an 800 page biography is not for you I can thoroughly recommend The Paris Wife which was a gorgeous and much more easily readable book)

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