The Paris Wife – Paula McLain

Where do I begin…. This is unquestionably one of my favourite books I have read in a long time! Don’t get me wrong I loved The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which I recently reviewed, but this book was even more special than the last. It could be that I have a soft spot in my heart for Ernest Hemingway, or it could be that this book reminded me so much of one of my favourite movies, Midnight in Paris (which I also reviewed earlier on).

The Paris Wife and Midnight in Paris both have all the ingredients needed for greatness: Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, as well as Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, they both take place in Paris, and both stories are told in the 1920’s through the eyes of an outsider.

The Paris Wife is a tale of Ernest Hemingway, and his first wife Hadley Richardson. Their story begins in the northern states of America where they first meet. They move to Paris because Ernest believes this is where he will flourish as a writer. Ernest is told by his friends in publishing that all the greatest writers are in Paris, so off they went to fulfill his dreams.  They came back to Toronto for Hadley to have their son, Bumby, and for Ernest to work for the Toronto Star, and before the year was up they were on their way back to Paris. Ernest could stand to be away for too long. But it isn’t only the adventures that are intriguing; it is the lives that we follow from country to country. We are there through the highs and lows, the good and the bad.

We all know Ernest was a brilliant writer with a larger-than-life personality. He was a hard-drinking, macho guy who loved bullfighting, and admired the toreros. Hadley and Ernest, even though they had little money, always used what little they had to go away on vacations. They would travel to Spain, to see the bullfighting and Austria to go skiing. Ernest loved the trips, because he had a chance to clear his head and concoct new stories while travelling abroad.

Ernest Hemingway had a lot of baggage when he married Hadley. Not just from the war (World War I), but also from his family, with his father’s suicide and Ernest’s constant search for approval from his mother.  This all carried over in his own marriage.

I have to give Paula McLain two thumbs up for the literary prose in this novel. I felt so sympathetic for Hadley throughout the entire story. Feeling the pain of loving someone who is there, yet feels so far away. The hurt one feels when you love someone so much, and they don’t seem to return the gestures. The sleepless nights wondering if your man will return home, but also trying to keep your own mind occupied with thought, as to not let your own imagination spin a tale of what he might actually be up to, at 3am, at a bar, probably good and tight with God knows who, fawning over his every word. Ernest did have many female admirers. Hadley reminds the reader constantly, that she is frumpy, chubby, and cannot compete with these Parisians women that are so well put together, with their chic hairstyles and their couture clothing. You can almost see the deterioration on the horizon.

Paula McLain researched actual letters sent between Ernest and Hadley. She studied biographies and memoirs. Even though this book is fictitious, you can still fell there is validity running through it.

Even if you do not know anything about Hemingway or have never read any of his previous works, it doesn’t matter. There is no need for background information before you read this book. It’s more from the side of Hadley then it is Ernest, and by the end of the tale you are not a fan of Ernest’s in the least anyway. But this did not stop me from running out a grabbing a copy of Ernest Hemingway’s memoir A Moveable Feast, which I begin immediately after. I cannot wait to finish it, and don’t worry I will let you know what I thought of it after. 🙂

This tale is an emotional roller coaster, and I enjoyed the entire ride! I hope you do to!




Filed under Historical Fiction

4 responses to “The Paris Wife – Paula McLain

  1. Did you read the “Restored Edition” published in 2010?

  2. Emphatically Yes! Papa prepared the manuscript and it was ready to be published, but events intervened. Finally, fourth wife, Mary, published it – in an altered and abbreviated form. Finally, in 2009, one of Papa’s grandson’s published this authentic text – not to be missed; especially for the Hadley material that Mary had excluded. Also, in an appendix there are sketches that might have been included but were never fully worked out.
    I too enjoyed The Paris Wife and find Hadley a very appealing person who truly loved Hem and enjoyed with him the outdoor adventures – skiing, fishing, hunting – that none of the other wives did. Sadly, egotist Hem, decided he needed a new life and a new wife and gave in to Pauline’s eagerly offered temptations. In fact, I think I’ll go back and re-read the book.
    What I liked especially about TMF was the great appetite Hem had for experience. He lets us re-live with him all the sights and sounds and smells of Paris, its cafes and its vivid personages. He allows us to partake of the feast.

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