Dawn's Reviews > The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
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Jun 15, 12

bookshelves: book-club-selection
Read from May 26 to June 12, 2012

The Paris Wife, from the perspective of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley, tells the story of his early years. It begins when they are younger, Hadley being several years older, they meet at a party and quickly become close. The book really gears up when they marry and move to Paris to be around the other writers and artists of the time. After a few years of happiness, Ernest writing, Hadley being a dutiful wife, and both flitting around the world, following their group of talented, if dysfunctional, friends. Of course, things begin to fall apart, as they tend to do, Hem going one way, Hadley in another.

I have to admit, the most I knew about Ernest Hemingway before reading this book was gleaned from the movie In Love and War. Embarrassing? Possibly, if I were that sort. But, The Paris Wife was an interesting foray into Hem's early life. The book is from Hadley's perspective (other than a couple of short, italicized chapters from Hem's point of view, discussed below), and she solidly, and emotionally, describes their life together. I liked Hadley and I appreciated her plain statements, her willingness to lay bare her feelings and what was going on around her. I find it interesting that the book is really about Hemingway, but told through someone else. As close as they were, at least in the beginning, it still makes for an interesting choice of presentation. I felt that the short chapters from Hemingway's perspective were informative, if a little leading. You could tell they were just inserted to make sure the reader knew what was going on.

I had recently watched Midnight in Paris and it was fun to read about the characters and parties I had just seen on the movie. I must admit, I definitely pictured Gertrude Stein as Kathy Bates. I highly recommend experiencing this book and Midnight in Paris together in rapid succession, in either order.

******SPOILER ALERT*******

As I said before, I loved Hadley, despite (even maybe because of) her absolute adoration for Hem. She gave herself up entirely to him, becoming his wife and nothing else. Usually this kind of behavior is grating, but I think it was her up front attitude about it that saved her from being entirely insipid. She was well aware that she was doing it and just gave in to it, somehow in a strong way. Hemingway, although a complete cad, was likable (until his antics with Pauline). I know he was completely narcissistic, and more than probably a little mentally unstable, but he had a charisma that McLain captured well. Pauline was a horrible person, I hated her with everything I had. Her ridiculously inserting herself into their family, without even the least bit of remorse or even a little sheepishness, was horrifying. This is when Hem started to become less of a presence, Hadley didn't see him much, so his influence gradually faded away. This last part especially was written with such heart, I really felt Hadley's despair and devastation. You can definitely blame her for some of her fate (at least her not realizing it until so late), but McLain writes her so well, you still end up on her side.

A beautifully written book, about a fascinating topic, The Paris Wife is a must-read for anyone interested in this time period and/or Ernest Hemingway.
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