REVIEW: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

May 19, 2016

 

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.

 

Genre: Historical Fiction

 

Format: Audiobook

 

Rating: ★★★☆☆ / 3 interesting but slightly baffling stars.

 

Review: The Paris Wife, by all accounts, is an incredibly well researched book. Pulling from letters, journals, and I'm assuming Hemingway's "A Movable Feast" to create this fictional but factual book. But it must be restated that it's a work of fiction. So in some sense it can be a bit baffling, because while I'm making my way from this book, all I can think is, how real is this? Especially since it's told directly from the point of view of Hadley.

 

In the larger scope of things, the book is predictable, simply because we already know the relative timeline of events. The draw was in the relationships with history's literary elite. It's essentially a novel of name-dropping, but all of these men and women are viewed through Hadley's eyes, which was rather dull. For a book that was spoken through the first Mrs. Hemingway, I felt she sold herself short. I wasn't really moved by her or taken to bestow my empathy. She was a very removed figure, the action happening around her and barely touching her at all.

 

Don't get me wrong, there were incredibly interesting moments. I was most taken with the descriptions of their favorite cafe's or eateries. The descriptions of their apartments and the neighborhoods the Hemingways walked and made their home. The atmosphere was fantastic and very visual.

 

The Hemingways themselves were less interesting to me. This book had the feel of a romance, told with conversations, but once again this is where fact and fiction tripped me up. I couldn't help but wonder if it was anywhere near fact, if it was in any way how they actually spoke to each other. It would take me out of the moment and I would lose the flow of the book. It was jarring. I think I would have found it more receptive if the story had been told in 3rd person. It would have felt less presumptive; less like a lie.

 

In the end, I enjoyed parts of the book, but as a whole it wasn't entirely successful.

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