When Penelope, a middle-aged English lecturer at a provincial university, finds herself attracted to earnest student Max O’Grady, she knows she’s in trouble. She feels herself to be ‘a fraud of Gatsbyian proportions ... staring her hopeless longing out to sea’. Attempting to remain professional throughout their seminars and tutorials, she’s drawn to rereading one of the texts Max is studying, The Garden of Eden, Hemingway’s posthumously published, bowdlerised final novel, in which David, a young writer, struggles to create new work while in a steamy ménage à trois with his wife, Catherine, and a Spanish gamine. As Penelope’s resolve crumbles, the reader is cast into Hemingway’s torrid novel. The focus, however, is on Catherine rather than David, Sonia Overall giving her a voice denied by her grizzled, declining creator.
More intriguingly, the reader is thrust into Hemingway’s consciousness. In a series of superbly voiced passages, we find Hemingway musing on a lifetime of writing fiction and sharing the secrets of his craft: ‘Shaping stories was like licking a bear cub into shape. He would work for hours on