Brad's Reviews > The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
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's review
May 26, 11

bookshelves: historical, kept-me-up-at-night, exceeded-my-expectations, reimagined-tales, with-marci
Read from May 18 to 26, 2011, read count: 1

I've never been a fan of fictionalized works of authors' lives, and the fact that The Paris Wife recounts my favourite author's life during the writing of my favourite book of all time, The Sun Also Rises, antagonized the hell out of me. It didn't bode well.

But I promised my sister I'd give it a go; she wanted me to read it because we'd just read A Moveable Feast together, and she sent me the hardcover that she'd read for a recent book club. I couldn't say no.

Then, straight away, Paula McLain pissed me off with some of her early writing in the book. They pulled me out of the immersion I prefer to give myself over to when I read; I would just start to lose myself in Hadley's Chicago, or Hemingway's Michigan cabin, and she'd do something inauthentic to break the spell. Things were getting worse.

Later on, my own personal feelings, connected to a long dead relationship of my own, a relationship I always thought of in terms of Hadley and Ernest, yanked me out of my immersion -- not once or twice but many times -- and I would be forced to take a break and try to immerse myself all over again. But I blamed myself and tried not to let my attitude spill onto McLain.

Around the same time, some clever moments marrying Papa's fictional writing with his "real" world were appearing, which had to be McLain's fault, and I asked myself: "Why do we even need books like this? If a book is just retelling the stories another author already told so well, fictional or autobiographical, surely a fiction that retells these already told tales is superfluous?"

The answer, I must admit, took me by surprise and changed my relationship with The Paris Wife. We need books like this because sometimes the finest stories are the ones we already know told from another direction by someone who loves the original stories and people just as much as we do. It seems obvious to me now, as I write it, but it wasn't at all obvious to me while I was reading.

It is beautiful the way McLain loves her subjects. She is fair to them all. She understands them in her own way, a way new and compelling to me, and she overcame all my prejudices, eventually suspending me in my immersion despite herself and her source material and me.

I wanted to hate this book. I set out to destroy it and tear it apart. I wanted to come on here and thrash it and Paula McLain. But I can't. I think this book is something special. And it will take its place on the right hand side of my Hemingway shelf, just this side of the biographies, and the Michael Palin Hemingway books. McLain's earned it.

Always read with a mind willing to open itself (even when you find it difficult to open your mind from the start). You never know what joys you'll find.
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Reading Progress

05/17/2011 page 35
10.0% "How historically accurate does an historical novel about real people need to be?"
05/19/2011 page 49
14.0% "This book would be so much better if it was about two random fictional characters."
05/22/2011 page 103
29.0% "There are times where this bleeds into plagiarism and/or wishful thinking."

Comments (showing 1-9)




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Mrs. Lopez Thank you Brad. Your review was interesting, raw and honest. I enjoyed your journey through the book. I am reading this book for my book club and will share it with the group since we do not have any brave male members. I will also give The Sun Also Rises a try too. Thanks again Brad.


Lucy Brad, "The Sun Also Rises" is also my favorite book of all time. I'm reading it again with a different viewpoint. I enjoyed this ok, although it changed my opinion of these historical characters.


Robyn I agree with your assessment, yet I don't think it was you- I felt totally immersed then suddenly bored to death. I wanted to love it all the way thru and just couldn't. At one point, if I never opened it to finish, I would have been fine with that decision. I found this book to be meh.


message 6: by Gio (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gio I wanted to yell at Hadley. I wanted to wring Ernest's neck. So ya, I got immersed. Dying to read more about the fitzgeralds though.


Jodi Melsness Robyn wrote: "I agree with your assessment, yet I don't think it was you- I felt totally immersed then suddenly bored to death. I wanted to love it all the way thru and just couldn't. At one point, if I never op..."


Jodi Melsness Me too Robyn!!


message 3: by Paula (new) - added it

Paula I'm halfway through the book, and frankly, don't know if I'm going to finish it. I'm so bored, that I'm practically falling asleep reading it! I might feel guilty though, if I stop reading at this point, so I'll probably stick with it!


Nancy Yagan Interested at first but then also became bored and eager to finish it. Historical fiction needs more drama and pizzaz or why bother?


Nancy Yagan Interested at first but then also became bored and eager to finish it. Historical fiction needs more drama and pizzaz or why bother?


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