The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

8683812From Goodreads: 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.

☺ ☺ ☺ ☺

December 23 is not a good day to get lost in a book. Not when there are small kids in the house who are bouncing off the walls with excitement for Christmas. Not when you still have all the presents to wrap. Not when the Christmas tree suddenly, inexplicably falls over and won’t stand up straight anymore. Not when you are suddenly faced with an additional seven people visiting on Christmas Day. Alas, I did it anyway. I loved reading this book!

I was surprised by how much I liked The Paris Wife. After all, it is about Hemingway, who I don’t particularly like. But this book was easy to read and absorbing, and I was not surprised to find out afterwards that Paula McLain has an MFA. I knew nothing about Hadley Richardson before, but now I almost feel like I’ve known her personally. I can see where she was coming from, even though I shook my head at some of her actions.

Since this book is based on fact, I liked the ominous prologue that reminded us of what happened in real life:

This isn’t a detective story—not hardly. I don’t want to say, Keep watch for the girl who will come along and ruin everything, but she’s coming anyway, set on her course in a gorgeous chipmunk coat and fine shoes, her sleek brown hair bobbed so close to her well-made head she’ll seem like a pretty otter in my kitchen.

Then we meet Hadley and see how she falls in love with Hemingway. We see their idealism and deep love for each other, and we get to move to Paris with them, where Hemingway tries to invent himself as a writer. We walk down the streets of Paris with them and meet Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound and Jon Dos Passos. (At this point, I was a little jealous that they got to meet all these people, just walking down the street.) We also see how Hadley remains an outsider, even though—or maybe because—she is Hemingway’s anchor at that time. She likes to be the one who brings him back when he has gotten lost in his head, yet at the same time she is uncomfortably aware of how she is always banned to the “wife’s corner.”

I think the book does a good job showing us how happy they were during their first years in Paris—until things start to fall apart. It was sad to see how the marriage slowly became tarnished. Considering how Hemingway carried on after his first marriage, it would have been easy to infuse some bitterness into the novel or to blame him for what happened to them. Yet the voice in the book stays relatively neutral, so that it didn’t force me to take one side or the other. I liked that McLain inserted some parts written from Hemingway’s perspective. It reminds the reader that even though Hadley seems to be a reliable narrator, there are always two sides to a story.

I finished the book within three days. I’ve been thinking about it a lot since then. (It’s a sign of a good book that it keeps me thinking.) I still have not fully decided why things might have gone wrong for Hadley and Hemingway. I tend to think that Paris in the Twenties had something to do with the demise of their marriage:

For years, we’d been surrounded by triangles—freethinking, free-living lovers willing to bend every convention to find something right or risky or liberating enough.

What I find interesting is that after his divorce from Hadley, Hemingway went on to marry three different willful and independent women. All of them were reporters/writers, and two of them worked in fields that were still mostly closed to women. They were all very different from Hadley, who was a stay-at-home wife and mother, which is something Hemingway seemed to treasure at the beginning.

My husband, sadly, is not a reader. However, he is a Hemingway fan, and we had a great discussion about Hemingway and his life. That alone made reading this book worth it.

I want to give Hemingway a second chance after reading The Paris Wife. So I got Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, to get his perspective of his years in Paris. I hope it’s as good as Hadley’s story; maybe then I can relate a little better to his books.

He was such an enigma, really—fine and strong and weak and cruel. An incomparable friend and a son of a bitch.

This was the first book I read for Jazz Age January, hosted by Books Speak Volumes. It was a great start to 2014!




  1. I’ll be curious about how you go with A Moveable Feast.
    I did exactly the same thing after finishing A Paris Wife, wanting to get Hemingway’s story. Trouble is I didn’t like what I found there!!

  2. Great review! I read Moveable Feast before reading Paris Wife and enjoyed the experience of reading it very much, although he clearly is not reliable in his meoirs. After Paris Wife I also felt the need to read to Hemingway and read The Sun also Rises, partly because it also utilises the atmosphere of Paris in the 20s, I did enjoy that one also. Hemingway does not emerge in a favourable light from Z either. A complex man in a complex age.

  3. Nice review! I really enjoyed this book, too. And I can say from experience, A Moveable Feast pairs really well with it! There are a lot of parallel events, and it’s interesting to read about them from both perspectives. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Great review, you make me wish I had a copy. I’ve read A Moveable Feast four years ago and I still remember the bohemian atmosphere, the cafes, the food and wine, the writers. It seems the books share a few similarities.
    I hope you enjoy it.

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