The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife
by Paula McLain

I really love a good, tragic love story, and the tale of Hadley and Ernest Hemingway is both good and tragic. It’s a hard story to go wrong with. There was plenty in this novel for McLain to show off her writerly chops, though. The pacing and point-of-view were top-notch. The Paris Wife reads like Hadley’s version of A Moveable Feast– which is, perhaps, the only beef I have with this novel. Much is made of Hadley’s old-fashioned habits and mindset. McLain points out repeatedly that in Paris in the 1920s, Hadley was cuddling up with Henry James novels instead of rushing after the Next Great Thing. Shouldn’t a person who reads Henry James sound more like Henry James than Ernest Hemingway? Of course, all the Modernists read James, too, so it’s not really the soundest reason on my part. All I’m saying is, for a woman so old-fashioned and decidedly unfashionable, she sounds pretty Jazz Age.

This is probably an unfair expectation of mine, though. McLain has done extensive research on Hemingway, and it shows. Context is crucial to understanding the story of the Hemingways, and McLain is able to communicate context without letting it overwhelm her characters. I appreciated, too, with what compassion she told the story. Though it’s clear that Ernest is an inveterate philanderer, it’s hard to hate him. It’s equally clear that, while Hadley could be seen as a Yoko Ono-esque albatross, she just needed different things that Ernest Hemingway was able to give her– stability and fidelity, primarily. The tragedy of their love affair is so poignant when told by McLain precisely because she makes it so easy to empathize so well with each character (except for Pauline. I came away hating Pauline).

I really enjoyed this book, but then, I love Hemingway. If you’re in the mood for a tear-jerker with some meat to it, check this book out. There is a lot to consider in this novel– about creativity, about balancing the demands of art with the demands of the heart, about the role of women during the Jazz Age, comparison maybe between Dorothy Wordsworth and Hadley Richardson, and many other things. I suppose I should really be talking about those things here, but I want you to read the book first. 🙂 It really is worth the sadness.

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