The Paris Wife
Author: Paula McLain
Synopsis: A deeply evocative story of ambition and betrayal, The Paris Wife captures a remarkable period of time and a love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.
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.
Why did I pick it up?: I love Hemingway. I loved A Moveable Feast. I even loved Midnight in Paris.
Favorite Line: "When I saw the rats the first time, I wanted to drop my basket where it was and run away, but we weren't rich enough for symbolic gestures. So I walked."
My Review: Hadley is a straight forward narrator, though at times she felt like a cardboard cut out delivering information, rather than a woman falling in love with a troubled young man on the brink of literary success. I feared that Hadley was a means to frame a well-researched Hemingway biography and call it a novel but maybe that is because as a writer and a Hemingway fan I found it hard to connect with her as a narrator.
I understood her desire to be with her husband and I pitied her loneliness when he was gone on assignment or lost in a world full of sentences. But I could not empathize with her. It takes a certain kind of person to be with a writer and Hadley wasn't made for it. She won't be happy being with someone who's talent intimidates her, she can't share her husband with his work. She's not happy being independent and I think that writers need supportive partners who can occupy themselves without feeling envious or jilted while the writer writes.
Though having her as a narrator stopped me from loving the novel, I still enjoyed it. There were many parts that expanded on A Moveable Feast and I loved them. As a whole the novel felt true, which Hemingway would have liked. McLain manages to write many beautiful and honest sentences, such as the one with the rats. And that is what really saved it for me. I would definitely read other books by McLain.
Recommendation: Good for anyone interested in Hemingway or Paris in the 20's.
Next Week: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern