AUTUMN IN VENICE
ERNEST HEMINGWAY AND HIS LAST MUSE
ANDREA DI ROBILANT Atlantic, 349pp, £17.99, Oldie price £13.61 inc p&p
Ernest Hemingway thought his novel
Across the River ‘a helluva book’. By most accounts, it is awful. For Nicholas Shakespeare in the
Spectator, it is ‘fascinatingly atrocious’. It is a ‘direct transcription
of Hemingway’s embarrassing eight-year middle-aged infatuation with a girl whose dialogue, according to his wife Mary, was ‘banal beyond reason’.
Who was the girl? Andrea di Robilant’s examines the story. When the Hemingways arrived in Venice in 1948, he was an international celebrity. John Walsh set the scene in the Sunday Times: ‘Adriana Ivancich, aged 18, was a slender, black-haired scion of a shipbuilding family now living in reduced circumstances in a faded palazzo. Cool and sophisticated, she joined the company on a rainy duck shoot. Afterwards, drying her hair by the fire, she asked if anyone had a comb. Hemingway found his own, broke it in two, and gave her half.’
Most reviewers found that Adriana lacked presence. As Walsh put it: ‘We never feel that the couple are more than a bored teenager’s sugar-daddy and a middle-aged alcoholic’s shag-dream.’ One weeps, wrote Walsh, ‘for Mary, the clever, witty, long-suffering wife, as she watches her husband flirt and drool over his sexy little friend.’
In the Washington Post, Michael Mewshaw thought di Robilant ‘captures the full panoply of quirks and conflicts that often made Papa and those closest to him miserable. Lovers, ex-wives, friends, publishers, even complete strangers were forced to dance to the tune he piped.’ The
Kirkus reviewer loathed Hemingway’s treatment of Mary: ‘The tension mounted after Adriana joined the couple at their home in
‘One weeps for Mary, the clever, witty, longsuffering wife’
Cuba.’ Hemingway’s most ardent fans may baulk at this one.
Ivancich and Hemingway: infatuation