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Apr 27

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Title: The Paris Wife
Author: Paula McLain
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 314
How I Read It: Hard copy from the library.

Synopsis: Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness – until she meets Ernest Hemingway and her life changes forever.  Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group – the fabled “Lost Generation” – that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill prepared for the hard-drinking and fast-living life of Jazz Age Paris, which hardly values traditional notions of family and monogamy.  Surrounded by beautiful women and competing egos, Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history, pouring all the richness and intensity of his life with Hadley and their circle of friends into the novel that will become The Sun Also Rises.  Hadley, meanwhile, strives to hold on to her sense of self as the demands of life with Ernest grow costly and her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging.  Despite their extraordinary bond, they eventually find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage – a deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything they’ve fought so hard for.

A heartbreaking portrayal of love and torn loyalty, The Paris Wife is all the more poignant because we know that, in the end, Hemingway wrote that he would rather have died than fallen in love with anyone but Hadley.

My Review: This was my book club read for the month of April, which was a lovely discovery for me because I’ve had it on my to read list for awhile.  I wasn’t sure what I was going to think of it, not being a huge Hemingway fan and likewise not knowing a whole lot about him as a person.  After reading the book, I don’t feel like you need to be a fan of his work to appreciate this take on his first marriage from Hadley’s point of view.

I found myself understanding whole heartedly why people would be drawn to Ernest in the beginning – he seems very charming and the kind of guy you’d like to be around.  After a time, he became quite maddening to me, but I can absolutely see why Hadley would have fallen in love with him.  Hemingway was quite a decent looking man in his younger days, which makes him all that more appealing when you include the passion he had for writing.

Hadley seemed like a remarkable woman, especially from the perspective I have now close to a hundred years later, to be able to put up with the eternal devotion and support Ernest seemed to require.  He is not portrayed as someone who could tolerate criticism from someone he was involved with, and I would have found it difficult to consistently put up with someone as moody and needy as Ernest seems to be.  That Hadley could not only deal with this daily, but still love him after all that time, is mindboggling and heartwarming to me.

It’s also amazing to me that people could travel around Europe so cheaply during the 20s and 30s.  The Hemingways spend a ton of time all over the continent, despite the fact that they are living on so little.  Reading about their time in Pamplona especially made me feel like I was right there with them, watching the running of the bulls.

My only complaint, which isn’t actually a complaint when it comes to the novel, is all the nicknames everyone was using for each other.  I’m not sure that Ernest called anyone by their real name, and it just drove me crazy!  It made it difficult at times to tell who was talking to who, since Hadley and Ernest would use the same nickname for each other a lot of the time.

This book also kind of made me want to try some Hemingway again.  It’s been years since I attempted to read one of his novels, and maybe I haven’t given him a fair shot.  That may be the best sign that it was a good book – it encourages me to read something I don’t typically enjoy!

Read this book if: This was a nice historical fiction piece, and I think people who are already familiar with Hemingway and his life will also enjoy it.

My Rating: 4/5 – Borderline amazing!