Lena Hillbrand's Reviews > The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
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Jul 13, 14

bookshelves: audiobooks, believe-the-hype, love-of-learning, historical, favorites-of-all-time
Recommended for: see review
Read from November 16 to December 06, 2011, read count: 1

The Paris Wife made me remember why I love historical fiction so much. McLain not only captures the atmosphere, but she does it with striking prose. I was not surprised to learn she'd published a book of poetry prior to this.
I just finished this book and I'm a little overwhelmed by it, but I'll do my best to form coherent thoughts. First of all, I cannot stress enough what an amazing job the author did of capturing the atmosphere of post-war Paris. Not that I was there to experience it, but after reading this book, I feel like I was. Like I walked the streets, participated in the extravagance, the decadence, the debauchery, the fashions and fads of the time, the whiskey and wine, the cigarettes and smoke, the poverty and claustrophobia. The atmosphere of the book itself is enough to make me love it. And the fact that it's about a writer only made me adore it more. It made me want to be there, to throw myself into their world, to smoke and drink and ski and go fishing and fall in love and write a novel. The only thing it did not make me want to do was go to a bullfight, but that's only because I did not enjoy that experience myself. If I'd never been to one, I certainly would want to after reading McLain's novel.
Aside from the atmosphere, McLain also captures the personalities of her characters so well. I felt like I was Hadley while I read it. Her parts were so alive, so aching and beautiful. Hemingway's few sections were also wonderful, confused and tortured and with a quite distinct voice from his wife's. Even though I knew what was coming, I still held on with Hadley and ached for her, cried for her a few times, loved with her. Because who hasn't loved that man who is so wrong for you, but so swooningly right?
There were a few parts where it went so far I just cringed, too horrified to look but unable to stop. (view spoiler) Also, the part where Hadley loses Ernest's manuscripts. Being a writer myself, it just knocked the breath out of me. That must be every writer's worst nightmare. I was literally gasping to breathe at how terrible it would be, and McLain does a wonderful job showing that, even through the eyes of the wife instead of the writer himself.
Hemingway is captured well, too. I understood his artist mentality very well. McLain takes an age old story (the struggling artist, a nobody, falls in love with another nobody, they get married, she stays in love while he gets famous and becomes somebody, and suddenly, his nobody wife isn't enough for him) and makes it stand out in all its tragedy and romance. This isn't a romance novel, but possibly the most romantic book I've ever read--not only in Hadley and Ernest's love, but in Paris, and the sweeping scope of the novel, the lavishness, the beauty of language and description and location, of each event, each chapter of their love affair. Even their demise is poignant and heartbreaking and messy, but rings with absolute truth.
In the epilogue, when it goes into the history of Ernest's family, I got a bit of a shock. Of course I knew of Hemingway's death, but I didn't know about the rest of his family. It was so morbid, and tragic, and sad. I'm glad that Hadley lived a long and full life, despite the wild years of drinking and smoking and cavorting around Paris with her artist husband. And glad to learn that she went on to happiness, even if she couldn't help Ernest. Like so many tragic figures, you find that the ones who need help are the ones who refuse it the most vehemently. Warning: This novel does paint Hemingway in a very sympathetic light, despite his flaws and shortcomings.

Recommended for: anyone who's ever been in love, been betrayed, or been to Paris.
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Quotes Lena Liked

Paula McLain
“This was my one brush with love. Was it love? It felt awful enough. I spent another two years crawling around in the skin of it, smoking too much and growing too thin and having stray thoughts of jumping from my balcony like a tortured heroine in a Russian novel.”
Paula McLain, The Paris Wife
tags: love

Paula McLain
“He was such an enigma, really - fierce and strong and weak and cruel. An incomparable friend and a son of a bitch. In the end, there wasn't one thing about him that was truer than the rest. It was all true.”
Paula McLain, The Paris Wife


Reading Progress

11/16/2011
10.0% "I love this book already."
11/17/2011
30.0% "this book makes me want to live in the twenties, fall in love, and go to paris to write. sooo romantic."
11/18/2011
50.0% "I read a bunch of reviews that said this book was boring. Um...maybe if historical fiction bores you. I can't imagine being bored by this book!"
12/01/2011
60.0% "I want to go to Paris, eat in cafes, drink whiskey, smoke, fall in love, and write!!!!"
12/05/2011
90.0% "one of those books i want to lick"
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Comments (showing 1-23 of 23) (23 new)

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Brooke The last sentence of your review is perfectly stated! As I was reading some of the negative reviews above, all I could think was that those people must not have experienced any of those 3 things. As I have, Hadley's story rang personal for me, and like you I very much loved the book.


Dawn Mateo I loves The Paris Wife. I found it very moving and entertaining.


message 3: by Reader (new) - added it

Reader I enjoyed what you had to say.


Lena Hillbrand Thanks. I hope you liked the book!


Bettyjeanyoungyahoo.com Great review. I just started the book and was immediately drawn into their world. Thanks for a great review.


Lena Hillbrand Thanks! The author did a great job drawing me in as well! Hope you enjoy the rest of the book.


message 7: by J (new) - rated it 3 stars

J Now my mind is made up. When I read your last sentence - for me it's all of the above. Tks


message 8: by Jan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jan Am about third of the way through and just love your comments. I am going to Paris in Sept for the first time so I am trying to read of that period. Great review.


Clara Lovely review!


Rachel Best review I've read, the last sentence was perfect!


message 11: by Lena (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lena Hillbrand Thanks. Jan, I'm jealous! Maybe someday I'll make it back, too...


Christine Great review! I think people that don't like this book or are mad at Hadley have missed the point.


Wendy Thank you! Your review is so spot on. I for one did not find Hadley dull - simple maybe but endearingly so because of her capacity to love unconditionally and uncruelly and to feel so absolutely and convincingly.


message 14: by Lena (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lena Hillbrand She was real, I felt, and stayed true to character. She's not the modern bad-ass heroine, which I think people see as desirable. But not everyone is like that! I thought her character was very honest.


Christine Hadley is doing things that many women do. MANY women. The honesty of the writing was great. It could have gone in several other directions, but staying true to what is known of this character, the simplicity of her, was the beauty of the story :)


message 16: by Lena (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lena Hillbrand I agree.


Astep Ah, poetry. That explains it.


Karina Wagner This book had me reading Hemmingway's novels from that era, I can't get enough!


message 19: by Lena (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lena Hillbrand I read his first one as soon as I finished this!


Machel great review on this book.


Maria Chiara Great book. I just finished it and find your review perfectly fit my feelings about this story. Thanks


message 22: by Lena (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lena Hillbrand Thank you!


message 23: by Kori (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kori Kamradt "This isn't a romance novel, but possibly the most romantic book I've ever read..." Couldn't have come up with a better description, captures my thoughts and feelings exactly.


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