Thursday, January 19, 2012

Book Review: "The Paris Wife"

"The Paris Wife" by Paula McLain
Originally published in 2011
My rating: 5 out of 5

In "The Paris Wife," Paula McLain brings to life author Ernest Hemingway's first wife, Hadley Richardson. She also conjures amazing images of 1920s Chicago and Paris, the movers and shakers of the "Lost Generation," the dramatic bullfights of Pamplona and the very tangible betrayal and heartbreak that ultimately came between Ernest and Hadley.

About two-thirds of the way through the novel, I looked up an online biography of Ernest Hemingway and was pleasantly surprised to see that every major event in the novel actually happened just the way it was written. It seems to me a risky endeavor to try to accurately fictionalize history -- where's the suspense when the outcome is already known? Ernest was married four times, so we already know at the outset that the wonderful, magical romance he and Hadley have will not last. But it seems McLain's goal was to stick to the facts while digging deeper emotionally, to supplement the biography of Hadley with emotions, actions, thoughts and feelings. She does this beautifully, and the result is a page-turner.

Shortly after WWI, young Ernest and 28-year-old Hadley are introduced by a friend at a party in Chicago. After a short courtship and quick wedding, they set off for Paris so Ernest can devote himself to his writing, earning money as a foreign newpaper correspondent and working on his own short stories and novels on the side. Ernest's career begins to take off with the help of notable authors like Gertrude Stein, Sherwood Anderson and F. Scott Fitzgerald. For a time, life for the Hemingways seems perfect. But there's always something a little dark, a little morose, a little unsettled about Ernest. And Hadley, despite being Ernest's biggest champion, struggles with the feeling that she's losing her sense of self. Eventually, even as Ernest experiences his first major publishing successes, his marriage begins to crumble.

I loved everything about this book -- the atmosphere, the places, the characters, the drama, the factual nature of the story and even the name Hadley! I was entranced by this novel and I'm excited to read whatever else McLain has to offer. Happy reading!

(Image Source)


  1. Sounds interesting. I love Paris so anything that has Paris as a backdrop would be a good read. I like the name Hadley too. It's different and pretty. Another book to add to the list.

  2. I thought this one was really good too. I'm usually skeptical about bio-fiction, but it made me want to try some Hemingway. :)


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