Sara's Reviews > The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
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's review
Nov 13, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: 2011, adult-fiction, historical-fiction, book-club
Read from November 13 to 14, 2011

I'd heard a lot of great things about this book, so when it was chosen as my book club's next book, I was happy to have a reason to read it. I found this to be an interesting fictionalized account of Ernest Hemmingway and his first wife, Hadley (the "Paris Wife"), as they traveled through Europe, with Paris as their home based, and he struggled to get off the ground with his writing. They interacted with a lot of other famous artists living in Paris, all living active lives with little substance or real happiness.

I have a vague memory of reading The Old Man and the Sea (and not liking it) when I was younger, but other than that, I had little knowledge of Ernest Hemmingway. I don't know how much of this book is truthful and how much was created from the author's imagination, but both Hadley and Ernest were brought to live in a convincing manner. The description of Paris in the 20's and the way this city influenced their lives was documented well.

The author also did a nice job showing the growing - and then deteriorating - relationship between Hadley and Ernest. Both were a lot more sympathetic in the first half of the book, when they were struggling to get by together, than in the second half, when Hadley became an extremely passive character who let things just happen around her while Ernest grew successful and self-absorbed. I grew frustrated with both of them at this point; it was hard to read about problems that Hadley endured without taking any action to change her fate.

I enjoyed reading the way that they both learned to cope with their lives in Paris and the friendships that they developed with other famous authors there. The entire book felt as if they were living this beautiful life with much unhappiness behind it, never realizing how well they had it. Hadley describes them as struggling for money, yet they were able to move to France, travel around Europe, and even have help raising their son.

While this book was beautifully written and the author made everything very vivid, Hadley's life completely revolves around Ernest with very little interests of her own. She does make one friend whom he doesn't like, but other than that, she's completely in his shadow. This kept their fates intertwined, but it also kept the reader well aware of their close relationship. The author did a great job making Hadley a memorable historical figure instead of simply the "Paris Wife" (as she refers to herself in the epilogue), and I think Hadley truly came full circle in the summary she provides in the epilogue, probably the most concise and moving part of the whole book for me. I finished feeling a little interested in actually picking up a book by Hemmingway, although I also finished feeling less than impressed with him as a person.

I was definitely transported to a different time and place while reading this book, and the author managed to capture their lives in a very beautiful way. It wasn't the typical "historical romance" a reader might expect - how could it be, with the way it ends? - but it was certainly a worthwhile, engrossing read.

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