Title: The Paris Wife
Author: Paula McLain
Genre: Biographical fiction
Prior to reading this book, my knowledge of Ernest Hemingway boiled down to the few bullet points most people associate with him:
- Celebrated Lost Generation author with a unique, sparse writing style
- Definitively macho and often criticized for misogynistic leanings in his work
- Tortured artist who killed himself
While The Paris Wife didn’t reveal any of these factoids to be inaccurate, this fictionalized account of Hemingway’s first marriage to the sheltered yet strong Hadley Richardson did flush out the complex nature of the man, and more importantly, the depths and details of his wife. What could it have been like to be married to Ernest Hemingway, only 20 years old when Hadley met him, shell-shocked from the First World War, alienated from his family, and desperate to distinguish himself as a great writer of his time? Not easy, as Hadley’s tale reveals.
Their story as a couple takes them from bustling Jazz Age Chicago to a squalid Paris apartment to cabins in the Alps to bullfights in Spain. Hadley struggles with the demands of motherhood and the uphill battle of hanging on to the love she once shared with Hemingway, whose roving eyes have been turned on a dear and trusted friend. McLain’s Hadley is an eminently sympathetic character, though sometimes the modern reader will want to shake her for putting up with the exploits of her husband. All of this private drama is taking place at the same time that Hemingway is creating some of his most noted works. For a book nerd like me, nothing could be more thrilling than a behind-the-scenes peek at what might have been unfolding in his personal life as he cemented his place in literary history.
I loved this book for giving a voice and intelligent mind to an overlooked “accessory” of a celebrated man. The prose is almost poetic in its beauty, and the scenes and settings with their details of period clothing, food, drink and atmosphere work to completely transport the reader to the 1920s.
Who would I recommend this book to?
The Paris Wife is a gorgeous novel, perfect for anyone looking for a slightly High-Brow escape to another place and time. While the world of the book is populated with fictionalized versions of literary luminaries like Gertrude Stein, the Fitzgeralds, Ford Madox Ford and of course, Hemingway, a familiarity with their work isn’t a pre-requisite. Though I know I finished the book wanting to re-read A Moveable Feast and For Whom the Bell Tolls, if only to stay in the highly-stylized, romantic universe of the Lost Generation for a little while longer…
For a consummate “Hemingways in Paris” experience, take this novel to the back patio of the Adelphi, order some cold, crisp champagne, and lose yourself in McLain’s beautifully nuanced story of love, loss, and letters.
SaratogaMama Rating: (out of 5)