From Publishers Weekly
Valerie Hemingway was a 19-year-old Dubliner named Valerie Danby-Smith when she first encountered Ernest Hemingway in Spain in 1959. Having attempted to interview the literary giant for the Irish Times,
she found herself sucked into his entourage. Thus began her long association with the doomed Hemingway family (which she joined officially when she married Hemingway's estranged son Gregory years after Hemingway's death). Ernest Hemingway, openly infatuated with the young Valerie, soon persuaded her to become his personal secretary and took her on a nostalgic driving tour of his old haunts in Provence and Paris. His fourth wife, Mary Welsh, a shrewd former newswoman, tolerated this arrangement—by all accounts a platonic one—and she and Valerie even became firm friends. But as Hemingway's health failed, the depressed writer began to confide in Valerie his desire to kill himself. When he succeeded, in 1961, Valerie, employed by Newsweek,
flew to Mary's side and helped her pack up the house in Cuba. Valerie spent the following four years sorting through Hemingway's papers at Mary's behest. An account of her stressful marriage to the manic-depressive cross-dressing physician Gregory Hemingway concludes a memoir that is vividly written and rich in atmosphere and anecdote, although it lacks a memorable or compelling portrait of Ernest Hemingway himself.
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Valerie Danby-Smith was 19 years old, convent-bred Irish, and a beginning reporter when she interviewed Ernest Hemingway in the midst of Madrid's bullfight season in 1959. He soon changed her life by inviting her to work for him as secretary and confidante. She saw Hemingway at something like a peak--he was writing A Moveable Feast
and sustaining the convivial high life--and also at his childish worst. The next year, with Hemingway and his wife, Mary, in Cuba, he was overtaken by fear, a maelstrom from which he never recovered. Mary asked her to sort through Hemingway's manuscripts and letters after his suicide in 1961. Then, after succumbing to a night with the playwright Brendan Behan and bearing his child, Valerie married the youngest Hemingway son, Gregory, who, despite his own respected memoir, and, perhaps, because of his predilection for dressing as a woman, never lived up to his father. Valerie's tender account has its share of sunny locales (Pamplona, Provence, Paris) and glitterati (Lauren Bacall, Cyril Connolly, bullfighter Antonio Ordonez), but its undertone is deep sadness. Steve PaulCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved