The Oldie - - BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR -

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

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