Hemingway’s Boat by Paul Hendrickson

A lyrical, textured, and meticulously researched meditation on Hemingway from a fresh new angle.

Paul Hendrickson, NBCC award-winning nonfiction author for Sons of Mississippi, pulls off the remarkable feat of finding a fresh, new angle from which to approach Ernest Hemingway: his boat Pilar. Purchased in 1934 with an advance from his longtime publisher Scribner, she saw him through three wives, great achievements and critical failures in his writing career, big fish and little ones, and the beginnings and the endings of many relationships. Hendrickson suggests that Pilar may have been the love of Hemingway’s life.

This is not a biography but a careful and compassionate rumination on the man through the lens of the boat. Hendrickson has brought to his readers a Hemingway who is neither object of worship nor monster, but a full and complex human who made serious mistakes in his relationships and fought pitched battles against his own demons, and finally lost.

The Hemingway fan will be enthralled with new details of his life, and the study of figures previously treated as minor but now revealing new facets of the man. The less familiar reader will be fascinated by this comprehensive account of the master and his complex spiderweb of varied effects on so many lives, large and small. Hendrickson presents his unusual and noteworthy story with beautifully quiet intensity and contemplation. Hemingway’s Boat achieves a terrific feat in reworking Hemingway’s story.

This review originally ran in the September 23, 2011 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

Further notes… I can’t tell you how much this book moved me. Perhaps you have noticed that pagesofjulia is a raving fan of Hemingway. I’ve read several biographies, works of literary criticism, and other spinoffs (see The Hemingway Hoax and The Paris Wife); I’m a little obsessive. But Hemingway’s Boat holds a very special place for me. Hendrickson (PH) treats Papa (EH) sort of gently, but doesn’t spare EH in his moments of monstrosity… PH comes from several different angles, interviewing different people who knew EH more or less well, unearthing some new details. PH approaches EH with the relatively unique concept that he was just a man – a great artist, but also human, with flaws and moments of everyday beauty. This book was noteworthy in all my reading of EH and the surrounding literature. It made me laugh and cry; I treasure this galley copy, where I usually pass them on as soon as I’ve turned in my review. This book alone has made my recent career as Shelf Awareness book reviewer worthwhile. (PH also recently came around here to comment on a post, which I found very exciting. Hi Paul!) I wholeheartedly recommend this book for fans of Hemingway, or of literary biography, or of well-written nonfiction, or for those looking for vignettes in Key West or Havana history.

10 Responses

  1. You can count me as another raving Hemingway fan. My obsession only began recently and what’s fantastic is my father used to enter the contests in Key West at Sloppy Joe’s so we would be surrounded by 300 Hemingways in one week 🙂 Funny stuff.

    I’ve had my eye on this book. Looking forward to reading it.

  2. Oh how fun to meet another. 🙂 And you grew up with a Papa, huh?? What are your favorite of his books to date?

  3. […] new book, Hemingway’s Boat, which you may have noticed I am mad for (main review here). I don’t have any kind of electronic version of it. Sorry. If you see a Town & Country […]

  4. […] or Hemingway’s Boat, both in September of this year. (You can see my review of the latter here.) These two books have been covered in a variety of magazines; I posted already about a blurb of […]

  5. […] limited bookshelf space (I’m sure you’re shocked). When I read Paul Hendrickson’s Hemingway’s Boat recently, I enjoyed being immersed again in one of my favorite literary and historical figures. It […]

  6. […] Hemingway’s Boat, Paul Hendrickson. Nonfiction. […]

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  9. In an earlier episode of Critical Wit, we talked about several Hemingway books, including this one. It was a fun conversation.

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