Author: Paula McLain
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Published: February 22, 2011
Hardcover: 314 pages
My Rating: 4 stars
Synopsis (from borders.com): 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.
A heartbreaking portrayal of love and torn loyalty, The Paris Wife is all the more poignant because we know that, in the end, Hemingway wrote that he would rather have died than fallen in love with anyone but Hadley.
My Thoughts: I was originally interested in this book for one reason: Paris. I love anything related to France, and hearing this title, I was immediately hooked. I didn't know much about Ernest Hemmingway and his many wives, but the title alone intrigued me, and the more reviews I read about this book, the more I wanted to read it. And while this book had little to do with Paris, I still really enjoyed it.
The characters are rich and complex, with Hadley at the center of it all. She vows that she will do whatever it takes to help Ernest accomplish his dream of becoming a published writer. She supports his idea of moving to Paris to meet the right kind of people. She meets with all of his artist friends, many of whom she doesn't understand. She does whatever it takes to help him reach his dreams, helping him to achieve happiness. She believes that once he is truly happy, he will realize that he couldn't have done it without her, and that is what will make her happy. Hadley is a traditionalist who is thrust into a modern world, where people have open relationships and women date one another (in the 1920s, homosexuality wasn't something that was shared openly).
Paula McLain writes beautifully and you can tell that she is a poet. Her language paints a beautiful picture where she sweeps the reader into the settings and places. As she is describing Pamplona, I felt like I was there in the crowded street among the dancers and revelers. It really does make you feel as if you are there with Hadley, experiencing everything as she is. I think it's these beautiful descriptions that create the connection between the reader and the story. If it weren't for the beautful language, I don't think that I would have liked this book as much.
While the book is written from Hadley's point of view, there are a few chapters that are told from the perspective of Ernest. In these chapters, you were able to see Ernest's destructive behavior and how he was handling it. He wants to be a good person and doesn't want to hurt Hadley, but he engages in situations where the outcome can only end badly. But no matter what he did, I never hated Ernest. I never felt like he was a bad person. McLain does not paint him in a negative light and allows you, the reader, to decide whether he is a good or bad person.
I would recommend this book to anyone. If you enjoy contemporary fiction, historical fiction, memoirs ... then this book would appeal to you. I knew very little about Hemmingway before reading this book, and even though it is a work of fiction, I still felt like I learned more about him and the time in which he lived. I will admit, I had to read Hemmingway in high school and did not like him, but this book makes me want to go back and revisit some of his books. Maybe, knowing a little bit more about the man, I will appreciate them in a new way!